From rent reform to property tax breaks and more, new Philly City Council sets an aggressive tone

By: - January 27, 2020 12:47 pm

By Michael D’Onofrio

PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia City Council set the tone for the new term by laying out a series of legislation focusing on gun violence, rent control, and worker protections, and rebooted bills Mayor Jim Kenney previously vetoed.

The newly convened 17-member legislature put forward bills that would, among others, increase a property tax break for long-time homeowners and grant community groups more of a say when developers propose some “high-impact projects.” Kenney pocket-vetoed six bills in the final hours of 2019.

Not to be left out, some freshmen members proposed bills and resolutions, including Councilwoman Kendra Brooks, of the Working Families Party, who called for a hearing on exploring rent regulations in the city.

However, whether the legislation advances is another question. The city council president and council committee heads control the scheduling of hearings for bills and resolutions, a necessary step before they progress back to the full legislature for vote.

The following is a rundown of some of the early agenda for City Council, some of which legislators have proposed in the past. Committee hearings on the bills and resolutions have yet to be scheduled.

Community benefit agreement on “high-impact projects”

Councilwoman Cherelle Parker reintroduced a bill for Clarke that would require real estate developers to hatch community benefit agreements with neighborhood groups on “high-impact projects” or those that receive “city support” or “financial assistance,” although the agreements would not have been mandatory.

The legislation would help protect those neighborhoods that lack sophisticated, professional community organizations, the council president has said.

The mayor vetoed the bill last month. City Council originally passed the legislation with enough votes to overcome a mayoral veto.

Councilman Curtis Jones introduced a resolution to hold hearings to explore how to improve the city’s homicide clearance and conviction rates.

As of mid-December, the Philadelphia Police Department’s clearance rate was nearly 54 percent, meaning 46 percent of city homicides go unsolved, according to a police spokesperson.

Increasing the homestead exemption

Councilman Kenyatta Johnson reintroduced a bill Kenney vetoed that would hike the city’s Homestead Exemption for homeowners to $50,000 from $45,000. Clarke was among the 15 co-sponsors on the bill.

The legislation was expected to cut city and school district revenues by $15.4 million next year, according to the Kenney administration.

The program is for property owners who use their property as a primary residence and reduces the taxable portion of a property’s assessment by that amount. Approximately 220,000 property owners are enrolled.

City Council originally passed the legislation with enough votes to overcome a mayoral veto.

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At-large Councilwoman Katherine Gilmore Richardson wants to give graduates from some city educational programs a leg up when seeking city jobs.

Gilmore Richardson proposed a resolution that would amend the city’s Home Rule Charter to provide a preference in civil service examinations for qualifying graduates of School District of Philadelphia career technical program.

Two-thirds of City Council (12 members) must eventually approve the resolution for amending the charter, which would trigger a ballot question for voters to ultimately decide.

Richardson also put forward a resolution to hold public hearings to probe the city’s financial preparedness for the next recession and strength of the city’s reserves.

New labor laws

Councilman Bobby Henon proposed a bill that would mandate some city employers to provide certain employees with paid family and medical leave.

He introduced a resolution to hold hearings to investigate the city’s “underground economy.”

Henon and Councilwoman Helen Gym both introduced a resolution that would amend the city’s Home Rule Charter to create a permanent city Department of Labor and board of labor standards with the goal of better enforcing the city’s labor laws, resolving disputes, and issuing fines for non-compliance.

Johnson also introduced resolutions proposing to hold hearings on the prevalence of payroll fraud in Philadelphia businesses, and to explore how to increase diversity, equity and inclusion within Philadelphia’s technology sector.

He proposed the same resolutions in the last council term, but the resolutions stalled.

New rules and financing for city elected offices

Councilman Derek Green proposed amending the city’s Home Rule Charter to adopt a system of public financing of campaigns for city elected offices. Green previously introduced the same resolution last council term, but it stalled.

Green also proposed amending the Home Rule Charter to clarify restricted rules and actions for city officers and employees with regards to their political activities.

At-large Councilman Allan Domb also proposed legislation to amend the city’s Home Rule Charter to establish term limits for City Council members, restricting legislators to four terms in office. The councilman introduced the same legislation in the previous term, which stalled.

Phasing out the city wage tax for the working poor

At-large Councilman Allan Domb reintroduced another bill Kenney vetoed that would put Philadelphia on track to phase out the city’s wage tax for the working poor.

Nearly 51,000 people would be eligible for the refund program, which would average $41 a month per taxpayer, according to the Kenney administration.

The city’s wage tax is 3.8712% for residents and 3.4481% for non-residents, which raises about $2 billion a year for the city’s general fund. The proposal would initially reduce the wage tax for all eligible workers to approximately 1.5% starting July 1 for tax year 2020.

That 1.5% portion of the wage tax is dedicated to the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority (PICA), a state board that oversees city finances. PICA is set to expire in 2023, at which time the tax-forgiveness program would provide a full wage tax refund.

The bill passed unanimously in the previous council term.

Dissolution of the PPA

Councilman David Oh proposed a bill that would dissolve the Philadelphia Parking Authority, a long-time target of Oh’s. The councilman introduced the same bill in the previous term, but it stalled.

Reimbursement to teachers for classroom expenses

He also proposed a bill that would establish a city nonprofit to reimburse teachers for money they spend for classroom supplies and equipment. Oh introduced the same bill in the previous term, but it stalled.

Michael D’Onofrio is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared. 

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