Thursday, March 31, 2005

Illusions of grandeur

Several recent surveys of schools have been discussed in a series of Inquirer and Daily News articles this week. Today's result of note is that no difference was found between the performance of charter and ordinary schools nationwide, and that fact can't be attributed to socioeconomic differences between the students concerned. In part the difference may reflect differences in training and experience between the teachers at such schools, as charter schools sometimes take uncertified or younger teachers, as they try to take "alternative" approaches to education. Of course, individual schools will vary greatly, but that's as true of the regular ones as of the more visible newcomers.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Chasing the dream?

Well, the police endorsement of Seth Williams for Philadelphia DA has indeed gotten him some attention, as evidenced by the Philadelphia Weekly feature story on his candidacy. Sadly, it doesn't add any new information to anything available elsewhere, but perhaps that's because most of a DA's activities are going to derive from its job-description, and thus there aren't that many arenas for philosophical divergence. So it boils down to the police department's interest in Williams' proposal (discussed previously here) to change the structure of the prosecutor's office to generate greater community accountability.
The FOP picked Williams based on his plan for community-based prosecution to handle the city's 70,000 annual criminal cases. Under this method, already employed in Atlanta and Chicago, assistant district attorneys handle cases geographically, by neighborhood or police district. They also work directly with residents, community groups and police to address specific quality-of-life issues. Williams says the streamlined approach means fewer cases tossed out of court.
Unfortunately, whether this will work is unknown -- or at least, nobody is reporting any data that shows concrete results -- so the endorsement seems to be mostly based on hope:
"Just that type of thinking alone, to do something different, is worth trying," says FOP chief of staff Eugene Blagmond, expressing concern for the high percentage of felony arrests dismissed from court. "Victims of crime should feel they can get justice. Police officers should feel if they arrest someone, that person will be brought to justice. Right now the system just doesn't work."
It's definitely bad that such a large percentage of cases are getting thrown out for lack of prosecutor preparation, but somehow I'd like more than a leap of faith on which to base my voting out a dedicated incumbent. Surely there's more information that we could have in the next six weeks!

Update: thanks to a note in the Chestnut Hill newsletter, I found that Williams has a formal document (PDF) on his campaign website that explains his proposal in more detail. Its arguments for the new structure seem compelling -- i.e., there are ways that it avoids personnel bottlenecks that make prepared prosecution less likely -- but again, not much in the way of data from other cities (a little anecdotal coverage). Still, worth checking out, if you're trying to weigh the options under discussion.

[Note: I spent a while looking for information on these programs, and found lots of chewy and thoughtful research papers, but the most thorough of them (this PDF) spell out the difficulties in figuring out how to measure the success of these programs (and on what fronts). So perhaps there's no problem with local coverage. It seems like an interesting area of foment in public policy and legal theory.]

Also, there's a discussion forum that might give many folks a chance to see Williams and Abraham in person, certainly answering questions even if not formally in a debate, tomorrow night. For event information, see this.

Out of the shadows

Well, complaints that Chuck Pennacchio has been overlooked by local media (presumably blinded by the powerful machine that has already annointed Casey) are answered today, as a story about his campaign tops the front page of the Inquirer Local News section. The focus of the story is really about how he's relying on the blogosphere to spread the word and raise his funds, but it does discuss his positions and that he's representing some folks who think voters should have some say in party nominations... It was also paired with an article about the Democratic focus on ousting Santorum, prompted by a Center City visit by Howard Dean. (Ironically, the former article is absent from the Inquirer's online "local/regional" page unless you specifically select "Philly and suburbs," so maybe they're pigeon-holing the story as a city one.)

Local group-blog Young Philly Politics got a hat-tip from the Pennacchio article, although I think a comments exchange got garbled by truncation. Casey's attempt to counter Pennacchio's efforts and "reach out" to the net community himself has met with rather mixed/tepid response thus far, if that discussion is any indication.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The money trail

A strange story in the Inquirer today about miscellaneous spending by City Council members on everything from support staff to redecorating their offices. I don't really have a sense of the scale here or whether the amounts being spent are excessive, but it's interesting how much the spending varies, mostly with time in office...

Monday, March 28, 2005

Snow White and the seven dwarves

Apparently Jon Corzine, the presumptive Democratic nominee for NJ governor, is enjoying a relative respite with a commanding view while his possible opponents scramble for attention.
"He's on a political pedestal right now," said Tom Giblin, a former chairman of the state Democratic Party. "The only thing they haven't done is bronze him. The perception in both parties is that he's going to be the next governor."
A rare treat to be a nonincumbent and get to stand back and watch the sharks fight among themselves. There's still time for a surprise as the election nears, but the current state of affairs is pretty remarkable.

Caught in the act

Young Philly Politics points out a little two-facedness from our illustrious Senator Santorum, as he simultaneously claims to support Amtrak funding and votes against it. Nobody made him write those letters to the editor, so what's that all about?

Friday, March 25, 2005

A snub for Abraham?

Lynne Abraham has been a popular but controversial D.A. Her challenger, Seth Williams, has been thought to have slim chances. However, his recent endorsement by the police association has caught some attention -- is this just backroom political stuff (or payback for slow handling of internal investigations), or are they really impressed with his new ideas about community-based organization of the prosecutor's office? I'm less intrigued with the process issues here than with the fact that this is one of the few really job-based (as opposed to political) endorsements out there for this post. I'd think that the opinion of the feet on the street should carry a lot of weight in a choice of prosecutor.

A little embarassment

City Controller (and mayoral hopeful) Jonathan Saidel must be a little embarassed that he, charged with overseeing proper use of city funds, missed a bunch of fradulent financial claims by one of his top aides. Apparently this guy (Anthony McNeil) lived outside the city, in defiance of city rules; used a city car for work, including giving friends a lift; got in an accident while on personal business but claimed workman's compensation and city repayment of his girlfriend's hospital fees; and involved Saidel by getting his signatures on letters supporting his claims to have been up to legitimate activities. Um, oops!

What little they can do...

Rendell and Street are fresh from their summit on gun violence, trying to find solutions in a state with a proven history of unwillingness to pass restrictive legislation. So they can dream of reasonable measures, such as one-per-month limits on purchases, but really they must find ways to work around the edges to improve matters in the cities. They would love to see the expansion of successful anti-violence programs into North Philly, where recent violence has been highest, but there doesn't appear to be any new funding source to support that. It looks like Rendell can redirect a few state troopers into better enforcement of existing restrictions on illegal guns. And maybe get a few legislators to consider making it a crime not to report a gun stolen (so that this can't be the excuse made by those who buy legitimate guns and then resell them). But honestly, despite the headline, there's nothing here to make me think that either of these executives are in any position to "go after guns."

Tom Ferrick points out that Philadelphia isn't allowed to pass local gun measures -- it tried that once and had its privileges taken away. But he doesn't have any real suggestions either. It all seems a bit bleak, especially in light of recent cuts in the total police force. I guess it's back to social services to try to intervene in troubled neighborhoods, but none of those groups are particularly flush with resources these days...

Thursday, March 24, 2005

How to judge a book

Young Philly politics has two posts today about the frustrating lack of coverage about issues in upcoming primary races, and about the tendency of the local media in general to obsess about process issues such as endorsements and polls. A similar dynamic can be seen in the early coverage of the 2006 Senate candidates.

I've tended to focus a lot on process here too -- the lines of power behind the scenes to big kingmakers, etc. -- largely because so much of Philadelphia politics seems comprehensible only in the context of influence domains and patronage. But upset victories do occur, so actual candidates should remember that having positions on the issues can win voters like nothing else. Particularly in an era when grassroots efforts are about to come into their own again, nobody can rest on their triumphs with the insider league and ignore the power of issues to mobilize action.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Clueless at the top...

It's clear that City Council offices aren't used to hearing from consituents about current issues and votes -- certainly not in the way that legislator offices regularly do -- but the level of cluelessness captured in this exchange is pretty striking. I hope that a little embarrassment spurs Council members to keep their staffs better informed!


We noted previously that a PA state senator (Michael Stack) had failed to mention a conflict of interest, insofar as he was considering gaming legislation while in possession of a piece of property that could balloon in value if a developer exercised the option to use it for a slots parlor. In fact, he previously sat out a vote on a measure changing the valuation of rights to that land (way downward), and it was his company that then snapped up the bargain.

Well, apparently the folks at home aren't the only ones smelling a bit more than the odor of dead fish around the whole business: the feds are issuing subpoenas for records in the matter. I particularly like this side bit:
His father, 58th Democratic Ward Leader Michael Stack Jr., owned another 20 percent but last month gave that stock to his wife, Municipal Court Judge Felice Stack, because he is facing felony forgery and conspiracy charges in an unrelated matter.
Just lovely all around. The combination of development decisions and the prospect of gaming just brings out the best in folks.

(via Young Philly Politics)

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

We're not dead....

(although I have been sick more this winter than in some 15 years)

News in the last couple days has mostly been musings on stories already underway, without much new insight or any interesting developments. Probably a good day for some historic research, but I just don't have the time right now. Check out The Scorecard for a running collection of older stories on current players in the Philadelphia region...

Probably some news in the next week or two about developments with regard to Neighborhood Networks, the new progressive grassroots organization coming together in Philadelphia. Mark your calendars for June 4 if you want to be part of the official launch and help shape the organization and its initial priorities, and/or sign up to be kept abreast of announcements before and after the conference.

Monday, March 21, 2005

The dangers of forfeiture laws...

...have been well documented in federal instances, but apparently the practice is alive and well here in Philadelphia, where the DA's office has the added incentive of getting all proceeds for its own use. Young Philly Politics has a gripping story about this issue that is worth consideration -- it might be time for local reform to match the federal reform/oversight passed in previous years...

Santorum and Specter -- peas in a pod?

The Rittenhouse Review has a running rant about our US Senators and their votes. Today's summary of their recent votes does cause one to sigh, but also shows some differences in their choices on such things as gutting Amtrak and Medicaid. Grist for the mill...

Friday, March 18, 2005

A bad day for Nutter, and for Philadelphia

Big news -- or rather, the lack of progress -- on two fronts today:
  • The smoking ban vote fell through, after a couple of Council folks got nervous at the last minute and a tie appeared likely. In theory it's just been put on hold, but Street and Nutter will have a lot of work (and hopefully not too many amendments) ahead of them to get the strayed lambs back into the fold...

  • Meanwhile, the ethics legislation actually went to a vote and was defeated. On this one, Street and his allies were in the opposition column. I guess a bad pay-to-play reputation doesn't bother him...
Well, back to the drawing board!

Upward trends in West Philly

America's Hometown has two positive reports on successes of Penn and the city in building up West Philadelphia: a huge new mixed-use development to be started this year and a summary of recent trends in the opening of new businesses there (a ton in just the last year) and the surge in house prices. Makes you think about what it takes to revitalize the whole region... Perhaps the combined efforts of Rendell (in Center City), Street (in the outer neighborhoods), and the new school superintendent (to retain motivated families) will pay off more broadly in coming years.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

A stopper in the brain-drain?

Apparently Philadelphia is doing better both at attracting college students to its academic institutions -- surpassing New York for the first time -- and in retaining them after they graduate. Good news for the whole region!

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Home prospects

Anybody with eyes has seen the flurry of new construction and condo conversions in Philadelphia in recent years, especially current action in Center City. Apparently it really is record-setting:
Since 1998, however, more than 12,000 residential units - houses, apartments or condos - have been added to Center City alone, according to estimates from the Central Philadelphia Development Corp. Based on projects under way or announced, 3,900 more may be completed by 2008, 1,465 of them this year. CPDC says projects with more than 2,149 additional units are proposed but have no set completion date.
The average starting price for condos is quite steep (around $350k right now), but they're among the hottest properties just now, apparently because of demand from two ends of the life cycle:
"It used to be when you turned 60 you retired and moved to Florida. Now people are working until their 70s or even 80s. They don't retire, but they do want to move down. Get rid of the big house and all the maintenance. Those people want condos."

Similarly, young couples and singles - especially women seeking security - are choosing condos as their first entry into the real estate market.
Interest rates are staying low, which will continue to lure new buyers, but if the bubble doesn't calm a bit soon, they'll never be able to trade up!

Not just bloggers focused on violence

The media has a frenzy of worry about crime rates today:All has a rather dire feeling. Sigh.

and meantime, Philadelphia appears to be cutting it's police force by 10% this year...

A perspective on crime

Young Philly Politics has an interesting post on Philadelphia murder rates (compared with a rather different place and time). Hard to know what to do with that perspective, but it is a bit of an eye-opener. However, I remember from psychology classes that there's a definite increase in violence with crowding (of animals, people, etc.), so I'm not sure you can ever hope for a big city to have per capita rates comparable to a largely pastoral country -- anybody who's every navigated a busy intersection knows where folks get a gradually increased misanthropy after years of bumping into and winding around other folks. But that doesn't mean we can't improve matters markedly.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Falling behind the Joneses

The New Jersey legislature has just passed a $2 increase in their state's minimum wage -- the first increase in a decade. This will put NJ wages well above the minimum in PA, which may increase pressure on our side of the river to compete for workers.

Maybe somebody who knows more about NJ can explain to me the significance of the vote summary at the bottom of this piece, which shows the (few) votes against and abstentions to be along District lines. Are those regions that oppose this farther from competing states? Crankier? Under business pressure? Just curious...

Smoke-filled news

A flurry of news items regarding smoking:
  • Philadelphia's smoking ban comes up for a vote this week, but appears to be in trouble as some of its sponsors (including Council President Verna) are backing out. However, John Street claims confidence that nine votes will be found.

  • Montgomery County's proposal to cease hiring smokers for government jobs is generating some predictable resistance.

  • Meanwhile, New Jersey has a state-wide smoking ban (on all places of employment) due for a vote by the state Senate in the next week or so. However, the article notes that similar legislation is stalled in the Assembly, so this may be a while in coming yet.
Any Philadelphia resident who has strong feelings about the proposed local ban on smoking in bars and restaurants should contact their Council representative (and any or all of the at-large members) before Thursday -- you can find their contact info here.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Upward with the schools

Via America's Hometown, this Inquirer article about new developments in the Philadelphia school system and its hopes of keeping motivated parents (and contributing citizens). Certainly the city benefits when young, productive folks stick with their downtown bases rather than assuming they must move out for their kids' benefits. For that matter, once you attract motivated parents, the schools improve, and that's the kind of feedback cycle that helps everybody in its vicinity. I wish them luck.

Voting round-up

The Inquirer provides a round-up of the week's votes by local congress-folk and senators. Notable is the defeat of the Santorum wage proposal previously discussed here -- it would have raised the minimum wage while exempting many more companies. Other interesting stuff there as well.

(via The Rittenhouse Review)

People news

A round-up of news concerning various Big Dogs and wannabes:
  1. The investigation of Vince Fumo is heating up, with the FBI rifling through his computer files this weekend. The probe is mostly focused on back-room payola that took the form of his soliciting big donations (from companies like PECO and Ikea) to charities run by/for friends and employees, in exchange for his looking the other way on legislative or regulatory issues. Messy stuff.

  2. Bob Casey is promising to stick with the Senate job, if elected, giving up his long ambition of governorhood. To make his promises more convincing, he claims new motivation to help fight the national Bush agenda...

  3. Joan Krajewski, one of the matriarchs of the City Council (and due to retire at the end of her term), has been out due to illness for some time. This is a bit of a puff piece, but tidbit about somebody who doesn't tend to get much coverage.
Hope I didn't miss much else while I was away (visiting my former hometown of St. Louis, MO)!

A right to privacy

Smoking is increasingly looked down upon in our culture. I personally get wiped out by exposure to smokey environments, and I will be the first to cheer if Philadelphia manages to make its bars and restaurants go smoke-free.

But I share the discomfort expressed by John Grogan in his recent Inquirer opinion piece, in reaction to the news that Montgomery County is considering banning smokers from county jobs. There must be some limit to employers' oversight of their workers' downtime...

Update: Most of post cut to restrain editorializing. I have other places to rant.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

A tidbit on Saidel

Dan at Young Philly Politics went to a rally yesterday that involved a variety of regional Big Dogs, and there he got his first chance to hear (presumptive mayoral candidate) Jonathan Saidel speak. He has some notes on that experience and the rest of the column (and some clueful commenters) cover some other Saidel stories. Worth a visit to local politico junkies like myself -- more fuel for weighing these lesser-known players.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Tuesday news roundup

Interesting stories are coming in batches, and I dispair of ever having sufficient time for them. Lest they get lost entirely, a brief look here:
  • The Philadelphia smoking ban moves out of committee with unanimous approval. This means City Council should vote on it next week. Expect the tenor of opposition and support to ratchet more frantic in the next few days... Recent business endorsements of the measure are certain to provide some cover for the Council in supporting the measure.

  • More fallout from the SEPTA financing game played by Governor Rendell and State Secretary of Transportation Allen Biehler. Republicans continue irate that they were left out of the loop on the federal windfall.

  • SEPTA and its union have extended their contract by a month, to buy more time for negotiations. A brief respite for nervous commuters.

  • The next round of local surveillence of citizens (see prior griping here) will apparently be in Fairmont Park, rationalized by the rapes that have occurred there.
    "One thing we want the cameras to do is to tell if it sees someone leave the path," Brennan said. But, he said, "We're not in any way covering the whole park here."
    Thank goodness someone is keeping us safe from picnickers!! whew!

  • In the department of "The More Things Change..." we find out that a PA Senator and his son had a little conflict of interest due to their ownership stake in a site optioned by casinos for a future slots parlor. Oh, should I have mentioned this earlier? eesh.
That's it for today!

Gaming news -- planning and design front

Apparently there was a design competition for a Philadelphia slots parlor -- I'm a little behind on this one, but it appears to be either of two different sites (12th and Market or the Delaware riverfront), and is probably more concept than contract. The Daily News was one of the sponsors of the event and thus has a flurry of stories about the idea and the winner:
  1. Here's their introduction to the contest, in two parts:
    • A general discussion by Mayor Street of why this is one of the most important projects undertaken in the area in recent years because of the way it can enhance or disrupt traffic in its neighborhood, add or subtract to the architecture of the city, etc.
    • A description of the student contest by its organizer, along with lessons learned along the way.
  2. A call to take these decisions seriously (and for citizens to make their voices heard)...
  3. A descriptions of the winning design for Market Street, which is a spiral of shops and other venues with the casino at the core, and an honorable mention for the same location.
  4. The winning design for the Delaware location, with a bridge theme, and an honorable mention for the same site, with a network theme.

  5. The images of the designs are available online separately from the stories, and you can apparently vote on your favorites.
Amazingly this all took place in an intense weekend, in which the students visited the sites, heard from regulatory commissions, and worked in teams to come up with concepts that took into account the wide range of constraints, from parking needs to architectural interest. Quite a production! Will be interesting to see whether the real future project manages half as much interest.

Monday, March 07, 2005

I hardly know what to say

The police are quite excited by the prospects for use of surveillence cameras to decrease crime. It started locally with Lynne Abraham's promotion of automatic cameras to catch intersection-runners, and now they picture limitless applications. One is perhaps not surprised that the ACLU sees this as a challenge to civil liberties:
"It captures not just what bad people do. It captures all of us. And we have a right, until we've done something wrong, to walk around and do what we want," said Larry Frankel, legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.
More amazing to me is this quote from Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson:
"People have the mentality it's a 'Big Brother' thing," he said, "but if Big Brother can stop crime and violence, that's exactly what we need, and I'm for it."
Well, the trains sure ran on time in 1940s Germany...
Peter Crabb, a psychology professor at Pennsylvania State University's Abington campus, has researched how such technology affects both the watchers and those being watched. He has found that users "get used to invading people's privacy."

"It makes respect for individual rights sort of fly out the window."
Judging by the Johnson quote, we're pretty much already there.

Developments on the SEPTA labor front

Well, the city transit workers have authorized a strike. That doesn't mean that they've voted to start one, just to make it part of the armaments of their negotiators. Their current contract expires a week from tomorrow.

I feel for the problems of labor being squeezed from both sides by the economy and rising health costs, but every strike decreases the willingness of commuters to become reliant on public transit. Nobody wins. Let's hope they can work things out...

(via Young Philly Politics)

Santorum backs labor legislation

It appears to be about raising the federal minimum wage, but in fact it mostly decreases wage and workplace protections on millions of workers nation-wide. I covered this a bit more in a post at my other blog, but thought it should be noted here.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Can't top this

Young Philly Politics has a great report on the image of John Street attacking Councilman James Kenney for ethical lapses having to do with contractors. I can't add a thing to what Daniel wrote in his post, right down to the title:

Pot begins personal attacks of Kettle

More theme updates

In the realm of ASFR's favorite story lines, the following quick news bits:
  • The anti-smoking bill has just gotten some new legs, with endoresements from the Chamber of Commerce, the Building Owners and Managers Association, and other business groups.

  • SEPTA punctures the balloon about a federal windfall: they say that the $400M figure was to be divided among many cities in PA.
    "We have to make it crystal-clear to the public, including the riders and our employees, that the funding announced by the governor does not provide one penny more than we need to balance our budget, as mandated by the state.
    This is bad news in two ways:
    1. it's angered legislators, who felt that they were wasting their time on budget discussions while Rendell had a huge ace up his sleeve, and
    2. transit workers don't see this as the kind of gift that would talk them out of hard negotiation (please don't say strike!!) in their current contract talks.
So, kind of a Good News/Bad News kind of a day...

So much for spine

A mere day after Barbara Hafer said she refused to step aside for local scion Bob Casey in next year's Senate race, she has changed her mind "at Rendell's request." Both Hafer and Hoeffel had said that intervention from Rendell might be the key to sorting out this issue, but Hafer spoke to the Governor just before yesterday's defiance. There must have been some serious back-room action last night!

Thursday, March 03, 2005

More cooks...

The Urban Warrior at the Daily News has a heap of suggestions for improving the experience (and thus attractiveness) of riding the Philadelphia city buses. More advice for beleagured SEPTA, but some assortment of improvements need to be made . . .

Clear the decks! (or not?)

As Bob Casey continues to mull a Senate race against Santorum, other less laureled Democratic candidates are chomping at the bit. I sympathize with Casey's desire to have an uncontested primary (given that he (a) otherwise faces two hot races in one year, and (b) has already been through a run for office every ten minutes in the last half-decade), but I also see the hubris to the request that the party jump through hoops (and forego public debate) to get him aboard.

The latest developments in this back-room drama?
  • Barbara Hafer declares her defiance of a brokered primary. She intends to run, whatever other candidates may join.

  • the folks at MyDD argue that a contested primary is critical to Democratic success in the general election. Quite the opposite of the conventional wisdom, but they make some interesting arguments, including the importance of building up the new(ish) grassroots and netroots efforts (rather than closing them out of decision-making) and raising the profile of Democratic candidates statewide.
I find these discussions interesting. Certainly, people have criticized the Hoeffel campaign for blowing off the primary and the opportunity that it represented to reach out to constituencies that didn't already know him (as well as to remind them of what a real progressive looks like, to put Specter's "moderate" status in perspective). I don't know that people really pay that much attention to primaries (although this one is obviously interesting to many already), but in a battle of name-recognition and issue-framing, any opportunity for exposure of the minority party has to be considered good, and worth a little expense to the candidates involved.

Anyway, looks like the decks won't be cleared, whatever the wishes of the Big Dogs might be.
On with the debates!

Update: took me a day to refind the link: with or without Hafer, there will be some primary, because Chuck Pennacchio has no intention of going away... Perhaps this will embolden the higher-visibility candidates too.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Word on WiFi

Two Daily News pieces give more info on the city's possible WiFi plans:Still a little sketchy to me, but more detail (esp. in the latter piece) than I've seen elsewhere.

Half a loaf for city ethics

Philadelphia's City Council managed to bring some ethics-in-government legislation out of committee today (and up for a vote tomorrow), but mainly by weakening the bill's provisions. The new measure would subject city contracts to more oversight, but eliminates many other of its original goals, such as decreasing nepotism and gifts or creating an oversight board.
If the bills are passed, people or firms seeking those contracts would have to disclose campaign contributions to any public official in Pennsylvania dating back four years, as well as list consultants they hired - and how much they paid them - to help them land the contract. The consultants would also have to disclose campaign giving.
. . .
In addition, Nutter's pay-to-play legislation would bar anyone who gives a city officeholder or candidate more than $1,000 in campaign donations in a year from receiving a no-bid or professional-services contract worth more than $10,000. Companies giving more than $5,000 would likewise be barred.
Of course, spectators doubt that even this shell of a bill can get enough votes to pass, let alone face a possible Street veto. Yeesh.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Diluting their energies?

Via America's Hometown, this interesting Inquirer opinion piece on the excessive fragmentation of government in Pennsylvania. There are 2600 local governmental units in the state, of which 60% serve fewer than 2500 citizens.
It's not that local officials don't work hard, care about their communities, or keep government close to the people. They do. And it's not about a willingness to serve. But in too many instances, these small local governments operate independently of one another, have few resources at their disposal, and do little planning either inside or outside their municipalities. They are 18th-century organizations operating in a 21st-century economy.
Some interesting notions there, worth a visit. (And wacky too -- I think that my tiny Philadelphia voting precinct -- a subunit of a Ward, out of some 66 wards in the city -- is about half that size.)

A little up his sleeve

Rendell rode to the rescue of SEPTA by revealing some kind of "federal windfall" that will keep the transit system solvent until 2007!
Rendell was expected this week to transfer $68 million in highway money to float struggling transit agencies. Of that, SEPTA expected $42.5 million to rescue riders from a 20 percent service cut and a fare hike of 25 percent threatened to begin Sunday.

Rendell instead surprised everyone with a transfer of $412 million to stabilize transit agencies until 2007.
That is a pretty big development to have arrived on the heels of so much discussion of stop-gap measures. No mention was made of these funds in Rendell's recent budget, although they were apparently released to him on Feb. 4 -- as a result, Republican lawmakers appear furious. Perhaps as a bone to them, Rendell promised some oversight:
By executive order, Rendell created a nine-person "Transportation Funding and Reform Commission" to audit how SEPTA runs and suggest new means for long-term funding.
He also put SEPTA employees on notice that they'd best not take anything for granted when the next round of contract negotiations comes around:
Rendell warned SEPTA's largest union, whose contract expires in two weeks, that a city transit strike on the heels of such largesse would not bode well for permanent funding relief from state lawmakers.
All very interesting. Good news, but strange maneouvers....