Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Death and Taxes

I wanted to direct my readers to this necessary piece by Brett Mandel, executive director of Philadelphia Forward, in yesterday's Daily News. Philadelphia Forward has taken the lead in this city on tax reform, pushing for tax cuts and an adoption of the proposals/plan put forth by the Philadelphia Tax Reform Commission.

Everyone who has studied the city and its problems agrees that this issue of taxation is of vital importance to the city's future, and yet nothing has happened. Mandel details the recent history of this issue, including the numerous studies that have been done, which have all reached the same conclusions. He mentions the economic forum that Street convened in the Fall of 2004, which was simply a joke and waste of money. Closed to the public and the press (another Street hallmark), its participants were not allowed to deviate far from the administration line that tax cuts are impossible.

It is an embarrassment that the 28 recommendations of the Philly Tax Reform Commission, which worked for an entire year studying the situation, have not been adopted. Street has stalled and stalled, looking for more studying. As Mandel says, "The time for study is over. The time for action is now." This was a commission created at the behest of voters, composed of members from all parts of society, from academics to labor to community groups. These rec is a product of hard work, deliberate thinking and the citizen's desires for a fairer tax system. There has been no effective argument against the implementation of this plan, just scare tactics aimed at those who rely on the city for various services.

The entire issue sums up this city's politcal culture, which seems content to spend its time telling us why things can't be, struggling to maintain the status quo. It makes sense for them, as they have viewed this city as a trough to benefit themselves, their families and their supporters. But, as the 21st Century Forum wrote, "The city should move quickly to adopt the major recommendations of the Tax Reform Commission... Some will question whether the city... can afford significant tax reform at this time, but that is the wrong question. Rather, we should ask how we can afford not to reform taxes now." This is the essence of the struggle that is going on here, as Philly's leaders and citizens have thought about what we are not and what we cannot be. Those who do are living in the past, and should be left back there. Hopefully, this issue can come to the forefront, another plank in the fight to take this city into the 21st Century, along with ethics reform.

I must confess that I know that nothing good will happen during our current Mayor's term, as he is more concerned with presiding over a dying city than facing hard decisions and standing up to his supporters. I challenge this Mayor to make the same committment that the Tax Commission made to attract or retain 47,000 jobs by 2010 and 175,000 jobs by 2017. Will he do this? Since he does not believe in reducing the tax burden, how will he add jobs to the city? If tax cuts were legitimate for the Cira Center, Comcast's proposed tower and new homes, why is a comprehensive plan not legitimate? For those who have argued against tax reform, like the city's unions, please explain your plan to grow our economy. How do you envision the city growing in jobs and people? Or are you only concerned with your members' lives and futures? Since service cuts are your greatest fear, do you acknowledge that any contuining decline in population and jobs will inevitably lead to a smaller tax base and less money to pay for services?

These are obviously loaded questions, but that is because I think that the time for debate is over. This issue has been debated and studied to death, and we cannot wait longer. Read Brett Mandel's editorial, go to Philadelphia Forward and get involved. The time is now.

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