State Sen. Mike Brubaker, R-Lancaster, hit town today, talking cooperation between the Republican-run state and the Democratic-led city.
"I'm extremely excited to be here," said Brubaker, who heads the key Senate Finance Committee and co-chairs the International Commerce Caucus. He was headed to the first in a string of City Council hearings "on the Competitiveness of Philadelphia," at which bankers and factory and warehouse owners, finance professors and city, state and federal officials and the city's ubiquitous nonprofit and promotional groups were to testify about how to lure employers back to town.
The senator said he came because he's "interested in trade and investments for both Philadelphia and Pennsylvania companies." Farms and firms in his district ship to foreign markets through the Port of Philadelphia and serve Philadelphia customers. "We're here to make sure there are city, state and (national) policies that facilitate that global expansion," he said.
Don't Brubaker's constituents see Philadelphia as a decadent, dangerous place? "It's still an issue in some people's minds. But the more time I spend in Philadelphia, the more I realize it's an antiquated perspective," Brubaker told me. "When I visit Reading Terminal Market, many people know me," and not just the straw-hatted-and-bonneted owners of the bakery and produce stands. "It's incredible, the connectedness between the city of Philadelphia and Lancaster County."
Of course, Philadelphia officials have a long history of seeing the state as a bank that can be convinced to fund public projects -- an act that became harder to pull off as the city's population shrank in the late 1900s, and especially since ex-Mayor Rendell left the governor's mansion. But "as far as I'm concerned, everything's on the table," Brubaker said. Depending on how the hearings go, he'll "make a list" of potential projects and reforms that could benefit business and boost hiring in and beyond the city.
Brubaker visited his host, freshman City Councilman David Oh (R-At Large), before the afternoon's testimony. The two met at a Drexel event promoting trade with Africa. Brubaker "knows Philadelphia is an important economic engine for our state, and that sometimes we need enabling legislation in Harrisburg" to change tax and debt rules and other key legal provisions, Oh said. "It was a very easy sell" to get Brubaker to attend this week's Council hearings so he can go back to the state capital (and back home) to say in good faith that there are Philadelphians who want to change.
I reminded Oh that even business's self-declared friends in the Democratic Council majority repeatedly vote for business employment and licensing mandates and say things about businesses that potential employers could easily see as unfriendly.