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.
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.