Where at-large candidates for Philadelphia City Council stand on taxes and public safety
The heated campaign between progressives and Republicans for two seats on the Philadelphia City Council has become, in some ways, about the national political environment as both sides try to paint their opponents’ views as extreme.
But ultimately, the City Council’s primary function is not to legislate contemporary social or cultural issues. Council members Develop city policy, adopt a budget, set tax rates, and consider shifts in city code for development projects. There are key policy differences between the four candidates competing for two seats effectively reserved for non-Democrats.
Democrats control the chamber, meaning the winners of these two seats will be from the minority party. That means they will need support from Democrats to advance any major policy and are unlikely to advance ideas seen as outside the prevailing consensus in the chamber.
Republicans Drew Murray and Jim Hatcher are running for seats against Working Families Party members Nicholas O’Rourke and current Councilwoman Kendra Brooks.
Here is their position on the main issues that tend to come before the Council:
City taxes and revenues
One of the most important series of votes council members take concerns the annual city budget, which is typically approved in June. The budget is proposed by the mayor, who then negotiates with the council for months while lawmakers vie for funding for their priorities.
The budget consists of two main parts: revenues and spending. Let’s start with the candidates’ positions on revenue (read: taxes):
Both Murray and Hasher agree more Strongly reduce taxes on wages and companies They want to reform the property tax system.
The wage tax is 3.75% for Philadelphia residents, and 3.44% for people who work in the city but live elsewhere. Lawmakers have made minor cuts to the tax over the past three decades, but it remains the highest flat tax on municipal wages in America.
Murray also said he would support eliminating the city’s tax on sweetened beverages, which has been among Mayor Jim Kenney’s signature accomplishments. However, Murray said the city must find other revenue to maintain tax-funded programs, including universal pre-K and developing parks and libraries.
Both Republican candidates have proposed changes to estate taxes, including… – Eliminate the real estate transfer tax on first-time homebuyers. Murray also proposed lowering property tax rates in circumstances where property assessment values increase, and the tax increases resulting from these increases are higher than inflation rates or standard cost-of-living adjustments.
Working Families Party
Both Brooks and O’Rourke seem to favor that Maintaining the stability of wage and corporate taxes. Brooks voted against those tax cuts, and O’Rourke spoke favorably of those votes.
As a council member, Brooks introduced legislation to Re-impose the “wealth tax” Or impose a tax on directly owned stocks and bonds. O’Rourke said he would co-sponsor the bill.
Brooks and O’Rourke also support requiring nonprofits like universities to make payments in lieu of taxes, or pilots. Activists have for years pushed schools like the University of Pennsylvania, which is not required to pay property taxes, to make voluntary payments to support the Philadelphia School District.
City services and programs
The budget also sets spending to fund city programs and services. One point of contention each year is the Police Department, whose annual budget of more than $850 million is the largest allocation of any department in the city.
Here is the position of the candidates on the various spending proposals:
Both Murray and Hasher say they want to Increase funding for the police department To recruit new officers and expand community policing.
Murray said he has no additional new spending proposals but wants to see the city move into operation “zero budget,” Or the idea of agencies preparing a budget from scratch and justifying all costs, rather than basing funding requests on previous allocations. The process could identify waste and ensure programs like the universal pre-K program can continue, even without soda tax revenue, he said.
Hasher said the council should work with the administration to allocate more funding to address law enforcement, business growth, expanding drug treatment opportunities, and city services in Kensington.
Working Families Party
Brooks and O’Rourke were like that Skeptical about increasing funding for the police department It sometimes adopted a reduction in the department’s allocations.
In 2020, Brooks voted against the city’s budget proposal, saying it did not adequately reduce the police budget and that the force had “historically failed to make our communities safer.” That same year, O’Rourke was quoted in Grade magazine as saying that defunding the police was “less about harming the police and more about investing in our community.”
Most recently, Brooks voted for several budgets that increased funding for the department, which has seen a budget increase of more than $100 million since 2020.
Both support Councilman Jamie Gauthier’s years-long effort to increase city funding to address quality of life issues, such as street lighting and illegal waste dumping.
O’Rourke suggested Expanding the state’s entire home repairs program, Which provides assistance to rehabilitate homes in low-income areas, by getting the city to match state investments until the size of the program doubles in Philadelphia. He also called for an additional $15 million investment in infrastructure beyond home repairs (such as parks and streets) in neighborhoods most affected by gun violence.
Public safety policy
Council members will undoubtedly see legislation brought to a vote over the next few years to address public safety, whether that be gun violence, the opioid crisis, or policing.
We’ve already discussed police funding. Below is the candidates’ position on other issues related to safety and law enforcement:
The public safety platform for Republican Party candidates is Focused largely on law enforcement, Advocate for hiring more police officers and increasing civil penalties for violations of the law.
They were both Republicans He criticizes progressive prosecutor Larry Krasner. Murray’s website says he “will push for a reversal on regressive, soft-on-crime policies. The council has little control over the elected district attorney, but it controls the office’s budget.”
Hasher also said he favors increasing civil penalties for reckless driving or ATV racing, which may be under the council’s jurisdiction.
Additionally, Hasher said combating the opioid crisis will be among his top priorities. He said he will advocate at the state and federal levels for new funding sources to increase access to long-term treatment and hold drug traffickers accountable.
Both Murray and Hasher Opposing controlled drug consumption sites, Where people can take drugs and be revived if they overdose. These sites are banned in most parts of the city after the council advanced the legislation this fall.
Working Families Party
Their safety and justice platforms are Focused on improving conditions In communities most affected by violence.
For example, Brooks hopes to expand her work in community land purchasing, which has included advocating for the city to create pathways to community ownership for vacant properties that are used as parks or side lots but are slated to be sold to the mayor. During her first term, dozens of parcels were returned to mostly Black and people of color communities.
Brooks also advocates for “youth job guarantees” in affected neighborhoods, and O’Rourke frequently talks about expanding programs at parks and recreation centers to deter youth violence.
O’Rourke also said he wants to make sure communities with high rates of gun violence are prioritized Rent assistance and utility support, With the aim of these neighborhoods receiving support 50% higher than the citywide average.
Additionally, both Brooks and O’Rourke said so Support supervised drug consumption sites As a way to reduce drug overdoses. Brooks was the only council member to vote against legislation that effectively banned the facilities in most parts of the city.
Both Brooks and O’Rourke as well Krasner endorsed it They support his progressive approach to criminal justice.
Housing and development
Council members who represent the city as a whole have less control over specific housing and development projects because of a tradition called council privilege, under which members cede land use decisions within their own districts to district council members.
However, members at large can decide to vote against legislation that greenlights a controversial project. It can influence change in housing policy and availability in other ways.
Murray and Hashr each They consider themselves pro-development But they come from different backgrounds. Hasher is a longtime real estate broker from Northeast Philadelphia, while Murray has for years been a civic association leader in Center City, including as president of the Philadelphia Crosstown Alliance and a Center City district board member.
Both are in favor – Maintain current tax cuts On new construction, Hasher has proposed expanding it, saying the city should offer rebates to low- and moderate-income first-time homebuyers.
He also said the city needs to focus on boosting its affordable housing stock and consider increasing funding for NeighborhoodLIFT, which provides homebuyer education and down payment assistance.
Both Republicans did, too He spoke favorably about the Sixers’ stadium proposal, One of the most controversial issues the council is likely to take up next year. Hasher is involved in and supports the project, which played a role in it gaining the endorsement of the politically influential Building and Construction Trades Council.
»READ MORE: The future of the Sixers’ new arena moves to City Hall after a competitive year
Murray’s stance on the scene was a little more moderate. He said he was inclined to support the arena, but was awaiting the results of the upcoming community impact study before taking a firm position.
Working Families Party
Both Brooks and O’Rourke say housing affordability is a major issue. Brooks was a Leading voice on the Rent Control Board, Which would allow the city to regulate what landlords can charge tenants — a policy O’Rourke also supports. Brooks said she is also exploring the idea of rent stabilization, a less restrictive regulation that limits rent gouging but may not freeze or enforce rents unilaterally.
»READ MORE: City Council discusses rent control, angering business groups
He supports both candidates ending Tax reduction for 10 years For corporate and luxury housing projects.
Brooks has also been a major supporter of several other housing and development-related legislative campaigns, including the city’s eviction diversion program and reforms to the rental screening process. O’Rourke said he would support efforts to promote eviction diversion.
Additionally, both Brooks and O’Rourke said so Do not support the square project As currently proposed. Each has expressed concerns about the impact the arena could have on the surrounding community, including Chinatown.