Wednesday, August 5, 2015

City garage sales?

Selling off city assets has been all the rage this week, after Sam Katz discussed the idea as a way to deal with an underfunded pension system and Councilman Bill Green wrote to the Inquirer to say that considerations of selling off assets are well under way, led by the mayor.

City garage sales?

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Selling off city assets has been all the rage this week, after Sam Katz discussed the idea as a way to deal with an underfunded pension system and Councilman Bill Green wrote to the Inquirer to say that considerations of selling off assets are well under way, led by the mayor.

The Inquirer's editorial page jumped in yesterday, in support of the idea:

Not only does the city have more than its share of buildings in need of an extreme makeover (including some Police Department outposts) but it's also a given that - with budget challenges - Nutter needs to make sure the city isn't wasting any of the rent money.

It's a good move, then, that the mayor has just embarked on a detailed review of the city's holdings. Last week, he directed that a 13-member task force be assembled to look at current and alternative uses for city buildings and facilities.

Where there's a market for dilapiated city buildings that aren't being optimally used, certainly the city should look into selling them off. The harder question comes when a city asset has market value because it already has meaningful value to the city. As this IOM editorial from last October says, the city needs to think about a) short-term vs. long-term financial gain, b) the creation of private monopolies, c) control over public policy (like, say, parking prices if the city sold off parking meters) and d) the proper role of government. Many of the same questions that need to be considered in the debate over privatizing liquor sales.

This is by no means to say that the city shouldn't look into divestiture. Just that there's another side of the ledger, and that sale decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis, rather than fire sale-style. Which, to the city's credit, appears to be happening.

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Every year, city government spends slightly more than $4 billion. Where does all that money come from? More importantly, where does it go? Are we getting the most bang for our tax buck? “It's Our Money” is a joint project between Philadelphia Daily News and WHYY, funded by the William Penn Foundation, designed to answer these questions.

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