April 18-24, 2002
Kenney: I Won't Run
Councilman Jim Kenney, who has been a longtime critic of the Street administration, seemed especially feisty during the recent wage-tax standoff. But those who have speculated that he might be jockeying for a run against the mayor should stand corrected.
"I don't want to be mayor because it's a terrible job," Kenney says unambiguously. For all his combative talk, the councilman figures it would be very hard for any Democrat to knock off a sitting mayor in the primary. According to Kenney, a strong Republican candidate would stand the best chance of defeating Street.
Two weeks ago, when the mayor was strenuously objecting to further wage-tax reductions, he drove up to a recreation center in North Philadelphia and pulled out a list of budget cuts that could pay for the $120 million that the administration claimed the bill would cost. The mayor’s doomsday list called for, among other things, closing 23 pools, eliminating four ladder companies and cutting 40 police officers. Opponents of the mayor’s position, such as Councilman Michael Nutter, called the list “scare tactics.” Now with the bill passed, the mayor’s office is moving away from the cuts discussed at the recreation center.
According to administration spokesman Frank Keel, the cuts "may not necessarily be that list. That was to give people ideas of the kinds of things that may need to be cut. It's not as if we're using that list and ticking off one item after another."
Street's budget director, Robert Dubow, says the administration is first looking for "things we can do that won't have an impact on services," but he says he can't make any guarantees.
Another casualty of the wage-tax cuts, the administration says, will be raises for the police and firefighters, whose union contracts are up for negotiation and will be decided through binding arbitration. On the union contracts, the mayor is sticking to his dire predictions. Keel says that the bill's passing "will mean that the city will have no choice but to offer zeros across the board" on both raising wages and expanding benefits.
Firefighters union President Tom O'Drain says the administration is using the wage-tax cuts as an excuse for a bargaining position they decided on long ago. "They've been proposing zeros from day number one, since before the wage tax was even an issue," O'Drain says. "We were insulted by that."
Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) President Rich Costello shares O'Drain's view of the administration, but he isn't ready to let City Council off the hook quite yet. "We have been assured by everyone involved, with the exception of the mayor, [that wage-tax cuts] will have no effect on the upcoming contract," he says. "We're going to find out if that's the case or not."
The FOP stayed above the fray on the wage-tax debate, and it now finds itself, in the words of Costello, "being used as the pingpong in somebody else's tournament." The FOP president says the councilmen who supported wage-tax reductions assured him that it would not affect the police contract. "I'm now depending on those Council members ... to keep their promise," he says.
Councilman Jim Kenney, says the police and firefighters have nothing to worry about. "The third-party arbitrator will look at the city's finances and conclude that they can give them a reasonable increase."
Kenney argues that the tax cut will actually boost revenue because it will bring jobs and residents to the city. "I assume that Council will probably take a hit in its budget," he says, chalking it up to what he calls "John Street's vindictiveness."
Mayoral spokesman Frank Keel responds, "That's an unfair perception that he [Street] would be in any way vindictive. This is an opportunity for Council [and] the mayor ... to set aside whatever angst there was during this long and heated debate. We all have to put our heads together and decide what's in the best interest of the city."
At the most recent City Council session, Councilman Frank DiCicco introduced a bill to extend the tax increment financing (TIF) on the Penn’s Landing project, and then he promptly put the brakes on the measure. TIFs are a tax break for developers that allow them to pay building costs with money that would otherwise go to the city in taxes. The original Penn’s Landing TIF was created in 1999 and set to last 20 years. But since Mel Simon, the Indianapolis-based mall developer who has pledged to build a “family-entertainment complex” on Penn’s Landing, still hasn’t broken ground on the project, the TIF will have to be extended to get the full 20-year benefit.
DiCicco says the TIF extension bill was given to him in the hall outside of City Council chambers by a Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. official. After introducing the measure, the councilman decided to take it off the fast track, giving him time to better understand the issue before calling for hearings.
DiCicco, who supports the Penn's Landing project, says TIF extension will be necessary because of the numerous failed start dates on the project. The current schedule calls for work to begin in August. "I'm of the opinion now that the August groundbreaking is not as realistic as it was a few months ago," says DiCicco. "Simon is still trying to get tenants in to get critical mass."
After years of delays on the development, can anyone really blame DiCicco for asking, "What's the rush?"