"Shared Prosperity Philadelphia," Mayor Nutter's feeble and expensive plan to try to solve some of the symptoms of poverty without touching the causes, is another example of the city's political class leading us further down the path pioneered by Detroit. And Greece.
Philadelphia is one of the poorest big cities in America. There are lots of reasons for this, but basically Philadelphia has chased businesses, taxpayers, and jobs out of the city with high tax rates and an irrational tax structure. This was done to allow the politicians to use public funds to pay for a bloated, patronage-filled bureaucracy and for programs that cater to the special-interest groups that help them get reelected and reelected. And reelected again.
What does Philadelphia need to do to fight poverty? Lower and restructure taxes. Focus on core municipal services: public safety, public education, sanitation, maintenance of the transportation infrastructure. Deliver those services efficiently. Make a real commitment to fight corruption.
What does "Shared Prosperity Philadelphia" do? Well, none of those things.
"Shared Prosperity" starts by creating the Mayor's Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity. History tells us that, under the current political leadership, this will be another bloated, patronage-filled bureaucracy paying for programs that cater to the special-interest groups that help reelect politicians. See a pattern here?
The plan will try to attract jobs for entry-level positions. Not a bad idea, but the plan calls for tax credits and incentives to attract those businesses. Bad idea. Government is notoriously poor at picking winners and losers in the economic development game. And how many times have we seen the city take a program and divide it into 10 equal shares, essentially allowing each district Council member to spread the wealth as he or she sees fit? That benefits only the politicians. Wouldn't the best economic development strategy be to lower taxes for everyone?
The plan recognizes that people with criminal records have difficulties obtaining employment, and it would expand the city's "ban the box" law, which restricts businesses from asking if a prospective employee has a criminal record. Another bad idea. People with criminal records deserve a second chance. However, placing additional restrictions on Philadelphia businesses that they would not have in the suburbs is another way to drive them across the city line.
If "ban the box" is such a good idea, then implement it on the state or national level. Doing it only in Philadelphia hurts the very people the law is meant to help by limiting job opportunities.
"Shared Prosperity" also calls for establishing outreach centers to help people take advantage of government benefits, encouraging parents to enroll their children in pre-K programs, boosting services and programs to help people stay in their homes, and creating financial empowerment centers to help people learn to manage their finances. Each of these ideas could benefit people. Each of them has a cost.
Philadelphia's government cannot be all things to all people. It cannot solve everyone's problems. It should focus on core municipal responsibilities. Does a program directly improve public safety, public education, sanitation, or infrastructure? Are these programs that should be run or paid for by the city rather than the state or federal government? If these programs result in higher taxes, limit opportunities, and drive businesses, jobs, and taxpayers out of the city, do they really help anyone?
Philadelphians need to demand that their political leaders deal with the causes of poverty before trying to deal with the symptoms.