Local Investigative Reporter Misses the Big Picture

Many of you, I know, are lucky enough to hail from places other than the City of Brotherly Love. Therefore, I understand if your eyes glaze over as soon as you see a piece here at America’s Right about my [current] hometown. Here, however, I encourage you not to, as the problems facing this city of limitless, perpetually unrealized potential are a microcosm of the problems faced and problematic mentality held by our nation as a whole.

– Jeff


Ten days ago, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter traveled to Washington, D.C. to petition those on Capitol Hill to include the City of Brotherly Love in its plans for the $700 billion bailout otherwise intended for the purported rescue of the financial markets and the American economy.

“We’re not asking for a bailout, we’re not asking for a handout,” Nutter said at the time. “We’re asking for a hand.”

A few days before that, Nutter released his proposal and plan to bring Philadelphia out of the economic doldrums, including but not limited to the elimination of hundreds of city jobs, the requirement that many of those who survive the cuts take a week-long furlough (essentially vacation without pay), the shuttering of city libraries and the closing of public swimming pools.

The city, Nutter said in an interview with Fox News Channel’s Bill Hemmer, was in trouble and sacrifices needed to be made.

Last night, the local Fox affiliate aired a report from its top investigative journalist about a Philadelphia city councilwoman, Blondell Reynolds-Brown, who had been using her taxpayer-funded city SUV to take her child each day to a private school on Philadelphia’s posh Main Line. The journalist obviously put a lot of work into the report — he staked out the councilwoman’s home, saw that she was driving her child two and from school in the city-owned car, saw that she occasionally drove one of her child’s classmates around, saw that she had her city-paid staffer pick up dry cleaning and take care of other personal business — and, in that respect, delivered an impressively detailed piece.

In showing all of that (please watch the video HERE), in pulling out the city’s rules and regulations and asking the councilwoman about paperwork and positing the possible insurance ramifications should something go wrong and calculating the costs in gasoline and so on and so forth, he did a nice job — but he completely glanced right over the bigger issue at hand, and irresponsibly failed and refused to see the forest for the trees.

At a time when Philadelphia is literally begging the federal government for a handout rather than repealing its business-stifling wage tax in the name of fostering commercial and industrial growth, at a time when the city is closing down libraries and draining public swimming pools in a desperate attempt to close a $108 million gap in its budget, why in the world is it necessary for 14 of 17 city council members to drive taxpayer-funded automobiles?

In his report, the television reporter mentions that Councilwoman Brown is making $112,000 per year in her position. Certainly, with that kind of money, she could afford to make payments on a Hyundai. Certainly, with that kind of money, she could have her dry cleaning delivered to her home or office and could perhaps share her staffer with another councilmember.

Forget, for a moment, the fact that Brown drives her child miles out of the way to go to the suburban private school. Forget, for a moment, the possible issues of liability and paperwork and city regulations and the time limits on the possible exemptions to the exceptions and waivers which the reporter shortsightedly focused upon. Forget all of those details — the unnecessary stakeout and hidden cameras. Forget all of it.

The issue here is plain and simple. City council members are paid well enough that they should be expected to provide for their own transportation, yet in an economy which demands responsible spending, taxpayers are forced to foot the bill for an unnecessary expense. During the report, the investigator cited an estimate by the city controller’s office that it costs taxpayers $50,000 each year for maintenance and gasoline for the vehicles. What about the vehicles themselves? That, after all, was a brand-new SUV she was driving. How can the mayor balance out those expenses and perks, even as limited as he wants them to be, against better serving the people and better using that money for Philadelphia?

How much does it cost to operate a public swimming pool for a summer? How much does it cost to staff a neighborhood public library with librarians? How much does it cost to put another police officer on our crime-ravaged streets, another teacher in our understaffed classrooms or more textbooks for our underserved students?

Everywhere we look, the city is cutting corners–no more snow removal from tertiary streets, drastic cuts in pothole filling, increases in parking fines, inevitable increases in taxes–yet those in City Hall have no problem commissioning mural programs, funding “movies under the stars” events, and building sports stadiums. This city, if you remember, seriously wanted the 2016 Olympic Games — now, it’s asking for federal money to make up a $108 million shortfall in the budget, a shortfall caused by things like free transportation for city officials.

This isn’t just Philadelphia, either. It doesn’t stop here. The overarching theme, actually, is at the heart of the troublesome economic conditions facing our economy at a national level. Government has grown too large. It has its grubby tentacles in each and every part of our lives. The upcoming administration wants to spend its way into prosperity, giving the people everything from so-called “free healthcare” to unprecedented college tuition benefits. It’s spend, spend, spend in cities from Philadelphia to Phoenix and back to Washington, D.C., and yet we’re willing to talk “bailout” before we dare focus our gaze inwards.

Just like Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds-Brown drives her brand-new, city-owned and taxpayer-funded SUV, Sen. Charlie Rangel uses four–four!!–rent subsidized apartments for his own personal use. Just like Philadelphia needs to beg for money from the federal government to rescue itself and its budget from the stifling ways of big government, Washington, D.C. needs to borrow from the Chinese to do the same.

If Philadelphia wants to emerge victorious from this economic downturn, it needs to do the exact same thing that the federal government must do for the same results:

First, reduce taxes or, better yet, eliminate those taxes which just don’t work for anyone. In Philadelphia, it’s the wage tax which encourages business and industry to set up shop in Bala Cynwyd, in Conshohocken, in South Jersey, or anywhere else outside of the city limits. In Washington, it’s the corporate taxes which encourage the mass exodus to India, China or Ireland.

Second, take a line-by-line approach at trimming the budget. In Philadelphia, get rid of the taxpayer-funded automobiles for those who don’t need them, and let the many area universities and museums and their alumni and patrons handle the various costly arts programs. In Washington, it’s all about the pork. We don’t need a taxpayer-funded Woodstock museum. We don’t need a $3 million program getting kids involved in golf.

Finally, focus your resources on the things that matter. In Philadelphia, keeping public swimming pools open provide our urban youth with a better option than getting involved in drugs and gangs and guns and crime, leaving the light on in the libraries augment our stressed public school systems, enhancing our tourism and hospitality industries bring people into what can be a truly world-class city, and keeping our city clean ensures that they’ll come back again and again. In Washington, it’s mostly getting out of the way and returning the power to the people and to individual business which will help. Eliminating the Department of Education and fostering a free-market approach to schooling, for example, ensures that states and municipalities do what is best for their particular situation. Maintaining a laissez-faire approach to business, for example, ensures that creativity and growth will not be unnecessarily encumbered by excess regulation.

It all boils down to some very simple ideas and ideals. Government is here to serve the people, not the other way around. Councilmembers and congressmen alike are here to serve the city and nation, and not the other way around. With a smattering of common sense and a heaping helping of conservative principles–smaller government, lower taxes, responsible spending–even the most backward of systems can take a giant step in the right direction.

As for Councilwoman Brown, perhaps she can convince the Fox crew to drop her kid off at school. Maybe the child would have seen the bigger issue at the heart of all of this.

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Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    It’s amazing. The govies met and granted a permanent waiver.

    As is their practice they circled the wagons to defend themselves from the enemy…those governed.

  2. Anonymous says:

    You should see all the lavish spending done for members of Congress and Executive Branch Appointees, all in the name of “security”. The creation of the Homeland Security Dept. was the biggest govt. expansion of all time and by far the most expensive. Everyone that has flown commercial since 9/11 has experienced just the tip of iceberg with TSA. Just the “G-rides” for the suits at each airport is astonishing.

  3. rls says:

    What so many people forget or never knew is that government, any kind of government, is a net consumer of productivity. Government produces nothing – it just consumes.

  4. Anonymous says:

    The white on blue colors of your blog hurt my eyes.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Jeff, another excellent job of writing!!! Everyday you sound more and more like Neil Cavutto to me….hope that is not an insult as it is not meant to be. Your down-to-earth vision of what is and what should be is beyond many of the “professional” writers out there. Thank you for your continued fight for our America.

  6. toto says:

    Very nice report Jeff, I only have one problem with it. In the article is says, ” she could afford to buy a Hyundai”, that may be true, but why not a domestic product? This is emblematic of the problems in our country, everyone buying foreign products isn’t helping the economy at all.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Good article, Jeff. I feel your frustration. My city officials are talking about asking for a bailout too. I’m so tired of elected officials giving themselves lavish perks at the taxpayer expense.

  8. ~Jennifer~ says:

    This was an excellent article and did a great job of showing government waste- and rls- you are right- government can’t spend any money it doesn’t take from someone else.

  9. John Galt says:

    It all boils down to some very simple ideas and ideals. Government is here to serve the people, not the other way around.>>

    Sorry Jeff but both ideas are wrong.

    Government exists for one purpose.

    To protect the rights of people.

  10. Rip Alinsky says:

    America has suffered unlawful deception from the Alinsky group.
    If the group u$urp$ power on January 20th, the constitution will be broken.
    Only the United States Supreme Court can relieve this outrage.

  11. Anonymous says:

    My favorite quote:

    “We’ve EARNED the right to be here… we signed up for this and all that comes with it.”

    The emporer has no clothes! I’m always astonished at how they are never shamed when something like this comes to light. Instead they are indignant that you would dare question what they consider a RIGHT, an entitlement to use MY MONEY!

    There is absolutely zero humility. This is why people love Sarah Palin for making bold moves like selling the jet.

  12. Bill says:

    It is rampant and everywhere, this sense of entitlement. No government official, whether they be local, State or Federal should be allowed to abuse the system like this. If they do that should be grounds for immediate removal from office. In our county, all government employees are required to drive their own personal vehicles; it’s been that way for a number of years and removes or reders harmless the liability issue. The things people get away with in our era is incredible.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I watch the TV Program "Parking Wars" It seems that Philadelphia get a large amount of Income from the PPA..Sometimes I think they just run the people around and around with red tape to get more money from the poor "suckers" that they ticket…I am NOT Afro-American, but it seem that they get more tickets than others of different ethic groups..and YES there is a lot of waste in all Federal, State, County & City Goverment…We as Taxpayers don't know the half of it…

    Concerned Taxpater in Spoth Carolina

  14. Tilli says:

    Atlanta is trying to suckle the govt teat as well….you are not alone.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Right on point! Have yall noticed that no one with any authority or position is willing to give up anything? The “Big 3″ weren’t willing to make any concessions on their salaries, plane rides, etc. I wondered why the union (mob bosses) weren’t sitting up there with the 3 CEOs telling how the union employees were willing to make concessions. No one is willing to give anything up except for the US taxpayer, who by the way, wasn’t even asked.

  16. Arkady says:

    Jeff, that was a masterful piece. Have you considered submitting your work to local papers? I live in Boston and no one would run a piece like this (maybe the Herald), but in Philly it may be possible?

    By the way, I find it amazing you used to be a democrat. It takes people their entire lives and sometimes that is not enough to realize and understand that government usually does more harm than good.

    Just great stuff, period.

  17. Lisa says:

    This problem is rampant in this country. The state of California (where I live) will be looking for a government hand out as well. I haven’t done the research… but I would be willing to bet that the Gobernator is driving (or being driven around in) a taxpayer paid for vehicle. I know that there are many city officials in LA that are driving “city cars”. The cars and perks are a horrible waste of taxpayer money. These officials get a salary, they can furnish their own cars. The rest of us nobodys have to pay for our own cars to get to work!! The problem is…that we the people have put up with this crap for way too long and now our elected officials feel entitled to these perks. The bigger problem still is that the 1st bailout set the precident… now every company, industry, city, county and state will be lining up for a government handout rather than fixing the problems that they caused. Common sense and logic is nowhere to be found.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Councilwoman Brown is making $112,000 per year in her position.

    $112,000.00!!!a year and cant make payments on her own car??? Why don’t they all take a pay cut to say..60,000 a year( put the balance BACK into the State budget and Voila- major money issue SOLVED)- that is what my husband and I make-AND we make TWO car payments plus 1,000.00 house payment, utilities,gas and insurance,savings,clothes and food and-holy cow!!-we even have spending money left for weekly nights out and a little more. Why cant the big-wigs make do with what we do??

  19. Anonymous says:

    The phenomenon of scrapping all the small ticket but popular public spending projects is an old tactic used by many municipalities, large and small. They threaten the masses with removing their pools, sports, parks, etc, in order for the tax levies to pass. I saw it happen in the small town I lived in. The school system even went so far as to get children to do radio ads, crying about losing their sports and art classes if WE didn’t give them more money to throw away. This same school district would repave the high school parking lot every two years, need it or not, because somebody’s brother owned the paving company.

  20. Koyaan says:

    Are comments no longer working or no longer allowed on the “U.S. Supreme Court Decisions on Berg, Denofrio Cases Could Be Imminent” thread?

    k

  21. Anonymous says:

    Time to time I watch council members meetings (Richmond, CA) on local TV program and it makes me sick!
    Around two month ago they tried to run out one councilmember because she discovered that millions of dollars are disappeared, lots of money goes to some suspicious payments and purchases and now the federal investigation under way. The most outrageous thing was that the other council members did not like that this issue brought to light. When the city mayor was asked how it possible that these ‘expenses’ have been aphorized (with her signature), the answer was “3-4 pages is too long list to look over every item”. Unbelievable!
    Majority of these members do now know how it works at all. One of their common answer is “I have no clue how it works…”.
    Every council member has credit card (probably with no limit in it). No wonder, they go wild with these cards as well since all bills are paid with no checking in the end.
    The most shocking to me was that they tried to accuse that council member (who brought the fraud issue) of printing 200 pages report. “…she found time to print and copy that report….and spent so much paper…”. Do I need to say more?!

    A few large businesses wanted to move in their city (so many jobs would be created for the community where half of population is jobless), but the city made everything possible for turning them off by creating unrealistic taxes and regulations.

    What business they gave home a few years ago – ‘Indian Casino’. How wonderful, now they created even more poorer and broken families. The crime is in the rise. In all surrounding areas, we never had so many bank robberies before as we have now.

    I don’t think even God knows what to do with it.

    It’s so, so sad…..

  22. Anonymous says:

    Boy, great article Jeff. This could have been written of my own crooked town, sweet home CHICAGO! Talk about major corruption, graft, influence peddling, perks and schmoozing galore, and our great mayor is telling us we’ll not see much in the way of public services anymore, blah blah, wah wah. And he wants Olympics here?? How costly is THAT going to be. I wish BO (Barack) would take hizzoner the mayor along with him for his new crooked ride in Washington DC….sign me disgusted……

  23. Anonymous says:

    They come to pay themselves first and everyone else be damned.

    The purpose of government today? To reward those who work within it and to use the authority inherent therein to expand patronage and further enrich the those who carry the public burden of governing civilians who neither understand or appreciate why those who govern are entitled to do what they do.

    What else do you need to know about Democrats in public office?

  24. rls says:

    Again…every dollar, every single dollar, that any government entity spends is in effect confiscated from someone who earned that dollar.

    The government, any government entity, has no constitutional mandate to spend one cent of your confiscated earnings on anything that is not directly related to your security or liberty. That includes every social program ever designed and implemented.

    Although most all taxes are onerous there are some that relate directly to benefit the taxpayer, i.e., those that support your local fire department or police department, depending on the efficiency and effectiveness of each; but for the most part, taxes are inefficiently applied to the benefit of the tax payer. So much of the inefficiency is directly related to the costs incurred in traversing from the tax payer to the end user. As much as 30% (in some instances) is drained before it reaches its final destination; such is the bloated overhead and inefficiency of bureaucratic agencies. This does not reflect in the final distribution amount – what is allocated or directed to certain entities is, in fact, the amount they will receive; it is reflected in the cost of supporting those entities charged with collecting and distributing the funds.

    If you want a first hand example of inefficiency and poor allocation of resources, look at any police department in a major metropolitan area. We in the business world differentiate between line personnel and support staff. Normally support staff would by a very small percentage of line personnel. See if you can find out how many civilian employees vs how many street cops are employed by your city.

    As anyone knows, if you want to decrease crime in a certain area, you make policemen visible. A pair of cops walking a beat in a high crime neighborhood, three shifts (24/7) will reduce crime dramatically. The problem is, that those two cops are more important as “revenue collectors” sitting at some speed trap with their radar guns, than they are patrolling that beat.

    I am just so sick of paying and paying and paying taxes to see so much of it wasted…or not to receive any noticeable benefit that it makes me sick.

  25. Anonymous says:

    I am born and raised in Philadelphia, and still live here.

    If we get rid of the BPT, they will raise property taxes sky-high. Philly is one of the few cities where you can get a nice home and low taxes.

    What Philly needs to do is force the deadbeats who have not paid real estate taxes in 40 years to pay them, or take their properties!

    Why punish those who do pay their taxes by jacking them up even more?

  26. Anonymous says:

    Totally with you on the pork spending. This is a bipartisan issue. Who would disagree? Officials getting paid $100K+ should have to have their own cars. If their job requires a lot of driving they can get mileage reimbursements if need be (mine offers them…not for commuting of course, but for business travel.)

    Why do we let our governments get away with this kind of crap? As a liberal democrat, one thing that I worry about with regards to having power in 2/3 branches of government (including both legislative bodies) is that the democrats will turn into a bunch of power-hungry, lazy, corrupt bastards that do nothing good for the country and give the party a bad name. Using government money for personal use and engaging in wasteful practices counts as part of that.

    Did you hear about how the Detroit car company leaders went to DC in separate private jets to ask for their loan? Talk about a waste of money!

    There are long lists of things that democrats and republicans / liberals and conservatives disagree on. But there are also so many things that we DO agree on. Why can’t the government at least do those things?!

    –Katherine

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  1. [...] to points south, I brought you a story about how the City of Philadelphia has continued to provide taxpayer-funded automobiles for city council members, elected officials who make in excess of $112,000 per year, and yet simulaneously asked the federal [...]

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