Philadelphia City Council is where job growth goes to die
By ADAM LANG
THEY say "If you don't want something to get done, send it to a committee." And this is exactly what comes to mind after City Council unanimously passed Darrell Clarke's bill to put a proposed "Jobs Commission" on the May primary ballot.
If this city charter amendment passes, it will be the third committee in eight years that Philadelphia has created to investigate ways to improve the business and job climate. We should all be personally insulted that Council is saying that it doesn't don't know what either the problems or the solutions are - even after having a Tax Reform Commission in 2003, a Mayor's Taskforce on Tax Policy and Economic Competitiveness in 2009, several Pew reports, tax comparisons by Philadelphia Forward and testimony by several local Chambers of Commerce. And the list goes on and on.
Of all those recommendations, what have the members acted on? Very little. It almost seems like they want to keep holding hearings until they get the answers they want and to ignore the truth because it's easier than actually doing something.
So, to help Council members, I'm going to list a variety of ways they can actually help job creation, saving them from the "Jobs Commission." Think of it as the Cliff's Notes version of all the reports, studies and hearings they apparently haven't taken the time to read.
First, don't keep raising taxes, especially ones like the sales tax that actually encourages consumers to shop elsewhere. If you want retail jobs to increase, stop making it more expensive to sell items in Philadelphia.
Second, phase out the business privilege tax so businesses aren't discouraged from operating. This doesn't mean just shifting the numbers around from one group to another, but actually eliminating it.
Third, make it easier to open a business by streamlining the permit and inspection process. If someone is opening a restaurant, Licenses &Inspections can come in one day and approve the kitchen setup, just to have a health inspector show up the next week and say it's all wrong - redo it. This adds uncertainty, and lost time and money, for an entrepreneur.
Fourth, stop interfering with employment issues. How can Council say it's concerned about job growth - while passing paid sick-leave legislation that will obviously make it more expensive to hire people in the private sector?
Fifth, Council needs to pass zoning-code reform and stop trying to micromanage development. It's absolutely ridiculous that someone has to get a Council member's blessing to open a coffee shop, or that they pass zoning controls that overly restrict uses in a commercial corridor.
Sixth, Council must get out of the land-management business. Much of the vacant land is owned by the city, Redevelopment Authority, Housing Authority or involved in tax issues. This land typically won't be released unless a Council member allows it. That inhibits investment.
Seventh, the city needs tax simplification. Is Council really unaware of how much a pain it is to pay business taxes, especially if you're self-employed or a contractor?
These are just a few of the many ideas that have been discussed over the years on how Philadelphia can have a better job and business environment, and are all items Council can start implementing right now.
WHAT ARE they waiting for? Why another committee? Besides being questions we should ask ourselves when deciding how to vote on the ballot question in May, this is what we should be asking our Council candidates during this election cycle. They've been told what has to be fixed, and how to do it. What's stopping them?
The commentary was originally published in The Philadelphia Daily News on March 24, 2011.