Late last night, Gov. Corbett unveiled the details of what he called a "rescue" plan for Philadelphia schools. I think that's giving it way too much credit -- let's call it a "cheap dime-store Band-Aid that's probably going to fall off between your front door and your car."
You know the drill -- Philadelphia's public schools are facing down a massive $304 million hole going into the school year that starts in September. There's lots of blame to go around but the people who get hurt the most are the truly blameless, the kids.
Plan A for dealing with the crisis was killing off everything that makes a school a school and not a massive chicken-coop-for-children -- you know, sports, art, music, that kind of thing -- and laying off a whopping 3,900 people, which has the bonus effect of destroying the current economy in Philly at the same time it wrecks our future economy (i.e., our youth). Plan B was to fill the hole with money where it could be found in Harrisburg, from within the cash-strapped city, and from union concessions.
You'll be surprised, surprised (I've reached my lifetime limit on the "Casablanca" "shocked" joke) to learn that in the able hands of Corbett and GOP legislative leaders, the whole plan kind of went to hell. Daniel Denvir of the City Paper has a good detailed summary of how, but here's a short version:
It's less money than the schools asked for. The one part of the plan that most Philadelphians were on board with -- the $2-a-pack tax in cigarettes -- was nixed by the Tea Party because that's what they do. The bulk of the money will come out of the pockets of working-class city residents -- in the form of delinquent tax collections (although in fairness, no one actually believes that scheme will work) and mainly through a sales tax, the most regressive, poor-people-hitting tax there is. The bulk of money to keep schools open will come off the backs of teachers and other middle-class school workers, through some combination of pay cuts, layoffs and reduced benefits. Corporations continue to skate through the Corbett years with an unending push to lower their taxes and to continue the generous loopholes that Pennsylvania allow them.
So how do these things -- a plan that puts most of the burden on the working class and virtually none in the corporate board room -- happen? Is it all Corbett's fault? The answer is "yes"...and "no." At the end of the day, Corbett has to answer to his real masters. I have to give some credit to the Inquirer for pulling back the curtain a tad:
David L. Cohen, a Comcast Corp. executive who served as chief of staff to then-Mayor Ed Rendell in the 1990s, was involved in the negotiations - it was Cohen who told of the "handshake on the phone" with federal officials.
Cohen said Sunday business leaders as well as Corbett believed union concessions were a critical element if the district was to obtain additional money from taxpayers.
"But that is not to say that either the business community or the governor or anyone else felt we should legislate what those reforms are," Cohen said, adding that he had worked with Rob Wonderling, president and CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce [and others, including the governor and the mayor].
Whew, I'm glad to hear that Comcast and the Chamber of Commerce didn't legislate this schools deal -- because otherwise, it sure kind of sounds like they did. Cohen is the guy, you'll recall, who had President Obama come to his house for a fundraiser, and then turned around and revealed that he's also raising money for Corbett (and GOP Sen. Pat Toomey). There's no such thing as ideological gridlock when it comes to the 1 Percent and their special interest, money.
Because here's the thing -- I'm actually willing to concede that Cohen, Wonderling, etc., had their "altruistic" motivations for getting involved, in the sense that they realize that the schools crisis is starting to give Philadelphia a proverbial black eye in the national media, and that's not good for business. But once big business gets the spot at the head of the table, they're always going to come up with a "rescue" that pulls the skin off of your hide -- not theirs. Which is exactly what they did here. And the bottom line is always crushing labor unions, which used to be the main bulwark against income inequality, a long time ago on a galaxy far, far away.
It's funny -- I missed the election when the people elected David L. Cohen of Comcast our education czar. When was that, exactly? Meanwhile, while business is running the show, who was representing the rank-and-file parents, teachers and the kids themselves in all of this? In theory, those stakeholders would be represented by their elected officials -- their governor, or their mayor.
But let's not kid ourselves. They're not working for you.
They're working for Comcast.
DN Members Only: Meanwhile, state aid for SEPTA appears to be delayed.