Pop quiz: If a group of incumbent politicians occupying cushy positions of power claim they’re going to spend your money to help others run against them, do you believe them?
If you’re still with me, you may be a bit suspicious over a plan introduced by City Councilman Derek Green and four of his counterparts to subsidize candidates running for local offices in Philadelphia. He would give our tax money to candidates at a rate of $5 from you or me for every $1 the candidate raises. That would be candidates like Derek Green, or co-signers Helen Gym, Bobby Henon, Maria Quiñones-Sanchez, and Mark Squilla. Our Council people, presumably all set to run for reelection in 2019, would be the first to benefit, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Their effort to subsidize themselves is set for hearings through the summer and fall, and my bet is that by Green’s 2019 reelection race, we’ll see our tax dollars deployed to return him to office. Council’s got their hands out. I say no thanks.
Even if we’re to believe their reasoning – that this money will support new candidates who will presumably replace them – we’re actually witnessing an uptick in local political involvement without spending a dime of taxpayer money. Turnout is sky-rocketing, in part due to progressive outrage at the Trump administration. Voters 18-34 showed up for May’s DA / Controller primary race at a whopping increase of 249 percent over 2013 numbers. Our federal races are seeing an influx of candidates. All over our collective newsfeeds, people are galvanized, and many of those people are ready to run. People don’t need taxpayer funding to run for office. They need a reason to do so and a path to victory.
Let’s say our Council earnestly wanted to fund their opponents (they don’t), and the money was urgently needed (it’s not). Who’s going to pay for it? Will the estimated $5 million cost be gleaned from our poorest residents, already bearing the brunt of Mayor Kenney’s regressive soda tax? Will we chase out more of our tax base by fleecing small businesses or homeowners? Philadelphia has been named the second-highest-taxed city in the country, and in particular our poor are “subject to a much higher tax burden than those in most other large cities.” So what or who is going to pay for Council’s reelection fund?
Decades of rule from those who only know how to create new taxes and dole out patronage dollars have not improved our city or the lot of our poorest residents. Since the 1970s the Democrats have had a stranglehold on all local power, and every part of Philadelphia except Center City has grown more impoverished for it. We have no word from Council on how we’re going to fully fund our pensions, which ended fiscal year 2016 with $4.3 billion in the bank and $11.6 billion in liabilities. Not a word on how we can avoid the fate of Detroit, which went belly-up and in so doing bankrupted an entire generation of public workers. We have no solutions for parents whose only choice for their child’s schooling is a failing, dangerous school or to try to move out of the city (if they can afford it). And no sign of a proactive agenda to promote small-business growth in our city, besides Gym’s race-baiting of Asian business owners and threatening to have their licenses revoked.
This public financing scheme, or reelection fund, is just another diversion from the real issues Philadelphians face.
If Council members want to clear the path for new candidates, they can step down or they can challenge the Democratic machine, which truly controls the levers of power in our one-party town. It’s the machine, and not the money, that prevents new people from rising through the halls of power in our city. And if people want to run for office there is no dearth of ways to get involved, from civic institutions to the ward system to the private sector. With our city’s finances failing and an uptick of involvement already, there’s just no reason to throw our tax dollars at prospective candidates and subsidize their risk. Here’s what somebody considering a run for office should do: put their skin in the game and deliver a winning message.
And for those Philadelphians who care about good governance and fiscal sanity, call your local Council person and our seven at-large members and tell them we can’t afford to subsidize their reelection campaigns. Tell them to get back to work on the real issues – schools, crime, affordability, and pensions – or we’ll vote them out regardless.
Albert Eisenberg is the former communications director for the Philadelphia Republican Party. He runs his own digital marketing firm. Find him on Twitter @RealHotCheetos.