More than one decade ago Vice President Al Gore declared that Ed Rendell was "America’s Mayor" because of his diligent work to improve the financial health of Philadelphia. After the nation’s darkest hours following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City, Oprah Winfrey dubbed Rudy Giuliani with the same title. Some pundits have even suggested that Mike Bloomberg is the contemporary inheritor of this designation.
Mayors across the nation are striving to pick up the mantle of successful big city mayors like Rendell and Giuliani while addressing the serious problems facing urban America. Just last week Detroit’s Mayor Dave Bing announced plans to consolidate city neighborhoods to allow for the adequate delivery of city services to a withering metropolis. Grand Rapids Mayor George Hartwell is spearheading a green schools initiative, Kansas City’s Mark Funkhouser has concentrated on increasing school success and public safety, and Newark’s Cory Booker is developing new ways to enhance citizen engagement with their local government.
Meanwhile, in the place once known as the "Cradle of Liberty," Philadelphia’s Michael Nutter is concocting new schemes for soaking city residents. He’s avoiding the tough, inevitable decisions to cut certain city services in order to save face for his 2011 reelection bid. Rather than launching serious reform initiatives and challenging Philadelphians to work with him for a better future, Nutter is asking very little of citizens except for more of their hard-earned tax dollars.
Just last week Nutter unveiled a budget proposal that includes a two cents-per ounce sugary drink tax and a whopping $300 per home garbage collection fee that will be assessed onto each household’s property tax bill. The mayor justifies these choices by claiming that city residents currently receive trash pickup for free and that a sugary drinks tax will help relieve Philly of its burgeoning obesity problem. These new taxes come on top of Nutter’s two cents on the dollar increase in the city’s sales tax that took effect just several months ago.
Forget the fact that a sugary drinks tax will lead to the consumption of fewer sodas which will lead to the need for fewer workers to produce, package, deliver, and vend these products in places like the Coca-Cola bottling plant on Erie Avenue in Nutter’s city. Or that Philadelphians—who live in the nation’s most highly taxed city—aren’t already paying more than their fair share for expensive trash pickup and lucrative public-sector union contracts for those doing said rubbish collection.
While Jack Kennedy challenged Americans to ask not what American could do for them but instead what they could do for America, Mayor Nutter has completely inverted this patriotic model. He’s telling citizens that they need not sacrifice anything for the chance to improve the city’s economic well-being. Instead of emulating Kennedy, Nutter seems to be channeling Nero by fiddling while Philadelphia financially burns.
The city’s budget stands at $150 million. The Philadelphia Inquirer says that Nutter’s $3.87 billion budget includes $33 million in new spending and over $146 million in new taxes, a figure projected to grow to $186 million in future years.
There are three things to consider prior to the passage of Nutter’s reckless budget.
First, the garbage tax will amount to a ten percent increase in property taxes on already over-burdened taxpayers. Why in the world would any sensible leader suggest a ten percent tax hike during the middle of an economic downturn? A results-oriented mayor would be looking for ways to reduce the costs of the current trash removal program through wage and benefit cuts for public-sector union workers and privatization (which studies showed could have cut 30 percent from Detroit’s trash collection tab a few years ago).
Second, since the mayor is so certain that his sugary drink tax will help curb an allegedly unhealthy behavior, what is to keep him from coming back in next year’s budget with a tax on caffeinated beverages, fatty foods like cheesesteaks, or on salty snacks like those delectable Center City soft pretzels? The sugary drinks tax can and will be the gateway drug to additional taxes imposed on the public under the guise of public health. Look out Starbucks fans, you’re the next stop on Nutter’s vice tax express!
Third, for a mayor who speaks passionately about defending city services, one would expect Nutter to understand that a family struggling to pay the bills cannot afford an extra $300 per year for a service they already pay handsomely to receive. As such, how does it benefit Philadelphia families to pay an extra $1.44 in taxes for each six pack of Pepsi they buy? And most importantly, why should Big Government choose which products are the winners or losers in the free market or the super market?
While other city mayors like Bing, Funkhouser, and Booker think of ways to reform their cities, Mike Nutter is thinking of one thing: reelection. He won’t cut any services because he doesn’t want to lose votes. He won’t take on the public unions because he doesn’t want to jeopardize endorsements and campaign cash next year. He won’t reduce the tax burden because Philadelphia’s Republican Party is too weak to make the case for it and business owners offer fewer votes to cast than AFSCME does.
Philadelphians ought to expect more from their mayor than the two cents on the dollar sales tax increase they got last year, piddling vice taxes, and the ten percent property tax increase. Just as citizens ought to be uninhibited in making decisions about what sort of beverages they want to drink and which trash collector they want to hire, they also have the freedom to choose a new mayor in 2011. It’s hard to believe they could find one worse than this.
Nathan R. Shrader is a PhD student at Temple University and the Vice Chairman of the Fifth Ward Republican City Committee. He can be reached at [email protected] or through his web page, www.NathanShrader.com