Kenney asks business leaders to help fund pre-K education

Mayor-elect Jim Kenney said Tuesday that top priorities in his administration will be expanding prekindergarten, adding jobs, and cutting the wage tax.

"We need to grow jobs in every sector," but especially among "a large cohort of people" who don't have a college education and need good-paying jobs, Kenney told a Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting.

"That's the waterfront," he said, referring to a plan to create up to 10,000 jobs at the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal and at Southport, at the Navy Yard's eastern end. "And that's some of the industrial-style jobs, manufacturing, distribution, and warehousing. We have to concentrate on that."

Kenney, who takes office Jan. 4, focused on expanding prekindergarten. Universal access for 18,000 children would cost $60 million. The city will need help paying for it from philanthropy and private partners, he told 220 business leaders at the National Constitution Center.

Later, he was asked what business leaders could do to help the city.

Kenney asked chamber members to focus on improving education, aiding the reentry of prisoners to work and city life, and raising some workers' wages.

"While I recognize the tension between the labor force and business when it comes to minimum wage, the fact that we have people working at our Philadelphia International Airport," hired by airline contractors for as little as $8.50 an hour, "that seems to me totally unfair."

Kenney also called on businesses to expand internship opportunities, both after school and through summer jobs. "What young people need are mentors. They need an example."

The next mayor said he wants to cut the city wage tax, now 3.91 percent for city residents and 3.48 percent for nonresidents. He favors a proposal to increase the property tax on commercial real estate and use the additional revenue to reduce tax rates for residents and businesses. The idea is that this would increase jobs and encourage more companies to locate in the city.

Increasing the property tax on commercial real estate has been advanced by a group called the Philadelphia Jobs Growth Coalition, whose members include Gerard Sweeney, president and CEO of Brandywine Realty Trust, and Paul R. Levy, CEO of the Center City District.

The Sweeney-Levy plan, as Kenney called it, would require a change in state law to allow commercial property owners to pay a higher rate than residential owners.

"That's a three- or four-year process to get us where we need to be," Kenney said. "I'm very excited about pursuing the enabling legislation to allow us to do that.

"What the business community is saying is, 'Raise our taxes so we can reduce some of our other taxes.' As long as it is not coming out of the general fund, why not pursue that?"

"If we can get our wage tax down to 3 percent over the next number of years," he added, "we're going in the right direction."

Kenney reiterated his intent to work with Council. "We need our City Council and the Mayor's Office to be in concert together, not to be at odds," he said. This means "more teamwork, paying attention to the absolute down-to-the-ground, grassroots, nitty-gritty of city life, and solving the problems."

As the city's 99th mayor, Kenney said, he also will pay "attention to the details every single day."

"Our commissioners are going to have a really tough time with me driving around the city or walking around the city. Because I'm on the phone all the time saying, 'This is ridiculous. Look at the street closure, the sidewalk closure, it's driving me nuts.' "

Kenney said his leadership style will be a combination of Richard M. Daley, the former Chicago mayor, and Ed Rendell, former mayor of Philadelphia: "Daley being so anal about service, and Ed being so much of a cheerleader about the city. If we combine those two characters, we'll do well."

lloyd@phillynews.com

215-854-2831 @LoydLinda