12.13.2006

Where Do I Stand

I just found out after the fact that there was an interesting Q&A
session for City Council candidates last week. I also found out after
the fact that two of my colleagues were on the hot seat - one who I'm
campaigning for and one who I wasn't even aware was running until
earlier this week.

But in looking at the unofficial transcript of the event, courtesy of
A Smoke-Filled Room (www.asmokefilledroom.blogspot.com), I couldn't
help but think of what my answers would be if I were posed the same
questions. Not that I would ever want to run for City Council, but at
the same time I'd want to have a position on these issues, or at least
an "I'll have to think about it."

Disclaimer: I reserve the right to punt, to waffle, and to otherwise
pretend this blog entry never existed.

***

Q: What steps do you think the city can take to increase the amount of
material we recycle?

Well-organized recycling programs can be a draw for the creative
class. They're also good for the environment. They also cut
municipal costs. Why wouldn't we work 10% harder to make this
actually work? My way would be through carrots (vouchers) and sticks
(fines). Incentives can initiate behavioral changes, which creates
the momentum you need to make this happen.

Q: Would you repeal, modify, or retain the current system of property
tax abatements for new construction?

Full disclosure: I worked on a study that found such abatements to be
generally positive. Fortunately, it's what I happen to personally
believe in, too. I could say a lot more but I'll leave it at that.

Q: There is a shortage of 60,000 housing units for poor people in
Philadelphia, and rents are skyrocketing. What do you propose to deal
with this situation?

Vouchers are the least intrusive form of government meddling and the
most effective way to avoid unnecessary concentrations of poverty. In
contrast, affordable housing construction has been shown to cost
significantly more than regular construction and is often
inefficiently sited.

Q: What changes would you make in how the city and related agencies
contract for services?

Mayor Bloomberg just put out a very comprehensive, performance-based
assessment of all New York City agencies. This sort of data-driven
approach is what you need to make municipal activity more effective
and more accountable.

Q: What steps can the city take to reduce handgun homicides?

Larry Sherman, head of Penn's Criminology Department, is correct in
saying the data will yield information on how to coordinate and focus
law enforcement resources towards activities that will preempt violent
crime.

Q: What role, if any, do you think casino gambling should play in
Philadelphia's economic development?

We need to make sure this isn't a race to the bottom, in terms of
gaming drawing and leading to the kind of negative behavior that's
more harm than good. Positively, we can use gaming as an opportunity
to reinvigorate distressed areas and offer our region high-end
entertainment options.

Q: How would you exercise the city's leverage over SEPTA to improve
its service and performance?

I'm working on something here, too, so I'll keep my comments brief.
The city needs to get the state to allow the city to impose taxes, so
that less of our local contribution comes in the form of fares. Lower
fares beget increased ridership, which eases financial pressure, and
causes a virtuous cycle that is the opposite of the vicious cycle
we're in now.

Q: What role should local communities have in determining whether and
how casinos and other developments are built and operated?

Immediate neighborhoods have the most to gain and lose from the
existence of a nearby casino. Let them participate accordingly. But
ultimately their gains and losses have to be weighed against city-wide
gains and losses.

Q: What measures would you support to protect low-income homeowners
from rising property taxes in the wake of gentrification?

If you're a home-owner in a low-income, low-growth neighborhood,
chances are the upcoming tax reassessments will lower your property
taxes. If you're "lucky" enough to be a home-owner in a low-income,
high-growth neighborhood, that same reassessment will increase your
property taxes - but your equity increases, too. The Brookings
Institution has some innovative ideas on how to help such home-owners
monetize those gains.

Q: How would you regulate campaign finance in Philadelphia?
"Leges sine moribus vanae." It's Penn's motto and it means "laws
without morals is in vain." Not to say you shouldn't legislate
towards a less corrupt environment, but let's take some personal
responsibility here, too.

Q: What municipal services in Philadelphia do you think are most in
need of improvement?

IT can connect the dots between agencies. John Fantuzzo and Dennis
Culhane at Penn are doing some of that related to at-risk kids, and
the data is yielding amazing insights on how to look out for our most
vulnerable. More effort like this can help all our agencies do
better.

Q: How would you deal with the financial difficulties of the
Philadelphia Gas Works?

What is PGW - a business, a provider of a critical resource, or a
charity for the poor? That's why we're having so much trouble, it's
hard to be all three of those. We may need to let it stay all three,
but the more business we can inject into it, the more we can deal with
its inefficiencies, which seem to be its biggest shortcoming.

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