Eliminating start-up fees, lower privilege tax get bipartisan support
Two tax bills — intended to eliminate business start up fees and cut the city’s business privilege tax — moved out of committee this week.
Both had council leadership’s stamp of approval and the endorsement of the mayor.
“At the end of the day we were all seriously working to make sure that our businesses seriously benefit in the city of Philadelphia,” said Majority Leader Marian Tasco, at a press conference late Monday afternoon, held to announce that both bill had been approved by the finance committee.
High business taxes and licensing fees have long been blamed for pushing business from the city to the suburbs.
In combination, the bills were expected to cut taxes by more than $70 million.
“The proposals in front of us today are the kinds of things we’ve been in favor of,” said Mayor Michael Nutter, who took the unusual step of publicly endorsing the tax measures before they were presented to the full council. “We’re still in challenging economic times, but we need to do something to jump start our own situation.”
The first bill, sponsored by Councilman Jim Kenney, would waive the business privilege tax for new businesses that employ at least five city residents full-time in their first year, and add five full-time jobs, again for city residents, in the second year. In addition, the $50 business privilege license fee would be waived, as would all related business license fees.
The business privilege tax is 1.415 mills on gross receipts (one mill equals one tenth of one percent) and 6.45 percent on taxable net income. In addition, new businesses pay licensing fees ranging from $50 to $500 before they can open in the city. Those fees would be waived — though the licenses would still be required.
Kenney, who said that while official unemployment figures put unemployment at 11 percent, that number is probably closer to 25 percent, adding that he hoped the bill would spur job creation in the city.
“I think the problem we’re facing in this country and in this city is unemployment,” he said. “These two bills will hopefully break the jam. To allow people, again, to think about coming to the city and staying in the city.”
A second, sponsored by council members Bill Green and Maria Quinones-Sanchez, would provide a $100,000 exemption on the gross-receipts portion of the business-privilege tax and exempt the first $100,000 in sales for the net-income portion on the first $100,000 in sales. It also included a provision called single sales factor apportionment, taxing just sales made in the city.
“Philadelphia city government… sent a clear message to the business community in the region and the nation: Philadelphia is open for business,” said Green. “We want you here. We want you to create jobs here.”
Gov. Tom Corbett’s plan to implement asset testing for food stamp recipients is wrong and mean-spirited.
Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley said an asset test will be implemented by the Department of Public Welfare in the coming months, but the administration has not decided its dollar-value level.
In a letter to the federal government late last month, the agency said it was considering a bar on recipients who have more than $2,00 in savings or other assets subject to the rule, or more than $3,250 for people who are over 60 or disabled.
On Thursday at a press conference at City Hall, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Mayor Michael Nutter, U.S. Rep. Bob Brady and state Sens. Vincent Hughes and Shirley Kitchen urged Corbett to reconsider the plan slated to start May 1.
“This is one of the most mean-spirited, asinine plans to come out of Harrisburg in a long time,” said Mayor Nutter.
Vilsack refuted the Corbett administration’s stated reason for implementing asset tests — cost-cutting and fraud prevention — saying that Pennsylvania already had one of the lowest fraud rates in the nation, and added the program is funded by the federal government.
“It’s not going to save the commonwealth of Pennsylvania a single dime,” Vilsack said.
“The money for the program is federally funded. Number two, it’s likely going to cost the commonwealth of Pennsylvania money because when you institute an asset test you have to make sure that you create a process by which those applications are reviewed.”
On Wednesday, former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell warned that an asset test would be expensive to administer and harmful to the economy, particularly in poor neighborhoods where food stamps are often a major source of business for small grocery stores.
“They’re not all minority, they’re not all urban dwellers,” Rendell said at a Capitol news conference with about a dozen state House Democrats. “They’re our neighbors.”
If the Corbett administration’s plan is costly and unnecessary why is it being proposed?
The answer is gutter politics.
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s attacks on the food stamps program and calling President Obama “the food stamps president,” were thinly disguised racial code words that helped him win the Republican presidential primary in South Carolina.
Gingrich linked food stamps with Blacks although the majority of the people using food stamps are not African American. According to 2010 Census numbers, about 26 percent of food stamp recipients are African American, 49 percent are white and 20 percent are Hispanic.
At a time when Americans are facing sustained unemployment and rising food prices, Corbett and conservative Republicans are shamelessly attacking one of the most reliable safety nets for families who suddenly find themselves unable to pay for food.
Hours at five local PennDOT licensing centers have been extended to give Philadelphia voters greater opportunity to get a photo ID for voting.
“Extending our hours in the state’s largest county demonstrates PennDOT’s continuing willingness to help customers comply with the Voter ID law,” said Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch, a statement released late Monday.
New hours — on Thursdays only — start Sept. 27 and run through Nov. 8.
Licensing centers at 801 Arch St., 1530 South Columbus Blvd., 2320 Island Ave., 919-B Levick St., 7121 Ogontz Ave. will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Though Schoch gave no reason for the decision, Mayor Michael Nutter recently made a personal appeal to Gov. Tom Corbett, asking him to extend hours for licensing centers in the city.
Nutter asked that hours be set from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
“The citizens most in need of new identification are very likely those who have the least amount of daytime availability and physical mobility, namely workers who do not have flexibility to take time off during the middle of the work day or seniors who are unable to travel far distances or who rely on public transportation,” the mayor wrote in the letter dated Aug. 28.
He also asked Corbett to consider a list of other items, including providing a dedicated counter devoted exclusively to handling voter ID applications.
Since March, when Corbett signed the voter ID law, PennDOT has issued about 7,000 voter IDs at licensing centers across the state. About 2,600 have been issued in Philadelphia.
On Thursday, the state Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a suit seeking to overturn the law, but voter advocates continue to urge voters to prepare for the worst and get the state required ID.
“We’re urging people, no matter what the court decides, to continue to get ID,” said J. Whyatt Mondesire, president of the state and local chapters of the NAACP, one of the parties seeking to overturn the law.
Critics of the law argue that it will disenfranchise voters – many of them Black.
Estimates vary widely but some suggest as many as 280,000 voters in Philadelphia alone lack proper ID. That number was compiled by a local voter advocacy group. The state’s official estimates suggested that about 187,000 voters lack ID.
The Tribune, in culling through voter data, has estimated that 39 percent of active African-American voters in Philadelphia — more than 152,000 people — lack state-required photo identification needed to cast their ballot on Nov. 6.
The city has agreed to use union labor for city-funded construction projects over $5 million — and the city’s trade unions have agreed to higher local, minority and female participation goals on those projects, in an agreement announced this week.
“Fifty percent of the hours for those jobs must be set aside for Philadelphia residents,” said Mayor Michael Nutter at the press conference Tuesday. “At least 32 percent of those are for minority males, and 7 percent for women.”
Nutter, along with officials from the Greater Philadelphia Building Trades Council, announced the agreement at a press conference where the mayor signed an executive order reinstituting project labor agreements, contracts that lay out the terms of work for the unions in city projects.
For decades, the city has been trying to force the trade unions to include more minorities and women on union jobs. Though this agreement used the word “goal” rather than language that would require those participation rates, union leaders promised the goals would be met.
“Every craft has committed to meet their goals,” Pat Gillespie, business manager of the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council, told reporters.
The trades council represents a number of unions or crafts. Blacks are most heavily represented in the laborer’s union, in which members are less skilled and lower paid than in others.
Nutter said a third party organization would be chosen to monitor participation in each contract. None had yet been selected. The goals will apply to all contracts over $5 million and those that require the involvement of more than one building trade.
Unlike more detailed participation goals for standard city contracts, which lay out different goals for different ethnicities, the project labor agreements lump all non-white groups into one category with one goal.
The city and the trade unions have been at odds for many years — as city officials tried to pry open the unions and force them to employ more minority workers — something the unions strenuously resisted. For example, City Council and the unions had a lengthy showdown during the construction of the $700 million addition to the Pennsylvania Convention Center. The unions resisted minority participation, and defied Council attempts to try and find out how many union workers were minorities.
Ultimately, Council did impose goals on the project. But, the fight and the publicity it generated obviously lingered in Gillespie’s mind because he said he hoped this week’s agreement would end the widely held view that “[We’re] just a bunch of fat, white guys from the suburbs. That’s not the case, never has been the case, but that’s the way we were characterized.”
Nutter said the new agreement would assure that diversity is automatically part of future contracts.
“Diversity is vital as we put our city’s residents back to work with these projects that improve the quality of life for all Philadelphians,” he said.
The project trade agreements do more than establish participation goals. The agreements will also prevent strikes and allow for cost savings. Nutter’s executive order also established an advisory committee for Project Labor Agreements, which will monitor and review all PLAs and will make periodic evaluations of the use of PLAs. The members of the Committee are the mayor’s chief of staff, the city solicitor, managing director, director of finance, deputy mayor for transportation and utilities and deputy mayor for economic development.
Shipyard signs $400M contract with ExxonMobil
A Houston-based affiliate of ExxonMobil and the Aker Philadelphia Shipyard signed a $400 million contract for two oil tankers on Monday, sealing a pact expected to create more than 600 local jobs.
The additional jobs will push the total number of jobs at the shipyard to over 1,000, officials said, trumpeting the project for the jobs it would generate.
“This will take our numbers back up to more than 1,000 highly skilled, highly competent craftsmen and women who work on these new ships,” said Mayor Michael Nutter. “What a spectacular achievement right here in Philadelphia. It’s a spectacular achievement that we’re still making ships here in the Navy Yard. It will only continue. It will only grow.”
The event drew a number of the state’s most prominent politicians to the shipyard for a ceremonial contract signing between SeaRiver Maritime and Acker in front a hulking segment of a ship — not one of the tankers — already under construction.
They all echoed Nutter, extolling the project as something that set a pattern for future growth.
“An investment here, in the people of Philadelphia, in this shipyard, is an investment on behalf of all Pennsylvania,” said Gov. Tom Corbett. “Because anywhere that Pennsylvanians succeed all Pennsylvanians succeed.”
One of the first acts of Corbett’s administration was providing the shipyard with $42 million in state funds.
Asked by reporters why he approved the funds at a time when the state was facing a deficit of more than $1 billion, Corbett answered that he viewed the move as an investment that would pay dividends for the state.
“We’re going to get it back through the employment here,” he said, meaning that ultimately the tax revenue generated by employees and the yard itself would cover the state’s investment.
“If Philadelphia grows Pennsylvania grows,” he said. “It is the job of government to help business create jobs for all of you, and that’s what we were working for.”
All of the jobs created through the construction of the two ships will be union jobs. According to Kristian Rokke, CEO of Acker, contracts were recently ratified with 11 unions involved in ship construction, allowing the shipyard to move forward.
“These people are highly skilled and motivated,” Rokke said. “They give me the confidence to say, “We are going to build these vessels to high standards. We’re going to deliver them on time and on budget.”
The latest incarnation of the shipyard, now the Aker Philadelphia Shipyard, opened in 2000, reinvigorating the stagnant facility. Prior to that, the shipyard, then the Naval Shipyard, employed roughly 7,000 people when it closed in 1995, raising doubts as to the future of what was once one of the busiest shipyards on the east coast.
Construction of the two ships is expected to begin in mid-2012 with SeaRiver Maritime taking delivery of both vessels in 2014. When completed, the two ships — Liberty class tankers, each 820 feet long, 115,000 tons — will be used to transport crude oil from Alaska to ports along the West Coast. Each double-hulled tanker will be able to carry 34 million gallons of crude. Both ships will be equipped with state of the art navigation equipment, oil mist and gas detection systems, and cleaner burning engines.
They will be the 17th and 18th ships built in Philadelphia by Aker.
“When these ships set sail they will sustain jobs in Alaska and in ports of call along the west coast,” said Andy Swiger, senior vice president from ExxonMobil. “And they will support good jobs at refineries and plants across America.”
Philadelphia-area community health clinics are slated to receive $1.5 million in federal funds, Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced this week at the Fairmount Primary Care Center in North Philadelphia.
“This is at the heart of our administration’s effort to improve access,” she said.
The funds are part of a $730 million federal grant program being rolled out this year, aimed at boosting access to health care and creating related jobs. According to Sebelius, the Obama administration plans on spending $11 billion on community health clinics over the next five years.
“This is largest infusion of dollars in the history of the country,” said U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, who was on hand for the announcement at the center, which is in his district. “It’s real help for real people.”
Community health clinics offer a range of services to residents, insured and uninsured, at an average cost of $1.64 per patient per day, according to the National Association of Community Health Centers.
“The staff at community health centers do it all on an extremely small budget,” Sebelius said.
Nationally, clinics have seen their patient numbers grow, said the health secretary, noting that since 2009, the 8,500 community clinics have about 23 million patients — up from 20 million. Roughly one-third of those patients are uninsured.
Community health centers also tend to serve low-income and minority patients. According to the NACHC, 71 percent of community center clients live below the poverty line, nationally. Approximately 27 percent of health center patients are African-American, and 35 percent Hispanic.
The Fairmount Primary Care Center, which is part of a system of six clinics — Delaware Valley Community Health — in Philadelphia and Montgomery County, provides health, dental, behavioral health, pediatrics and women’s health services to 42,000 patients.
With its share of the federal funds, clinic officials said they would add a new dispensary, expand the waiting room and update the air conditioning and heating systems.
In addition to providing much needed health care in communities that often lack other resources, community health clinics also provide jobs. The NACHC estimates that health centers created $20 billion in economic activity in 2010 and expected that figure to rise to nearly $54 billion by 2015.
Sebelius said the federal grants spent this year would stimulate the broader economy.
“It really creates a ripple effect throughout the community,” she said.
Since 2009, clinics have created about 20,000 jobs.
The officials gathered at the clinic Tuesday also took the opportunity to voice their support for the president’s health care reform. The law is under review by the Supreme Court and administration officials are worried that justices could strike it down.
Mayor Michael Nutter, a very vocal supporter, praised the president for making sure it got done.
“President Barack Obama brought us the best affordable health care plan this country has ever seen,” he said.
The task force charged with studying the city’s options for feeding the homeless laid out its recommendations in a report issued this week, and Mayor Michael Nutter said his administration is prepared to put them in place.
“Our commitment is to implement these recommendations, to deal with the core areas that have been identified, and to move the city forward and to take every one of our most vulnerable citizens with us,” Nutter said.
The 59-page report, released Wednesday afternoon, laid out five recommendations.
It urged the city to: establish consensus and capacity as it moved to deal with hunger; increase food access and options for the homeless; expand infrastructure, and help private providers feed more people and increase access to indoor feeding spaces for providers and the homeless.
The list of recommendations was intended to provide a comprehensive approach to a problem city officials described as complex — and which involved more than just hunger.
Noting that on average 200 people a day — and sometimes as many as 300 people — rely on meals provided by charitable organizations, Arthur Evans, commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services who chaired the task force, said the problem is not limited to capacity.
“We have enough physical capacity in the city today to address that number,” he said. “But one of the reasons we’ve tried to lay out the core issues is, we don’t believe the solution is simply to add capacity. If that were the issue, I think the city would have resolved the issue a long time ago.”
Homelessness and hunger are often related to much larger economic and health issues, he said.
As a first step the mayor said he would name a point person within the administration to coordinate the effort — a joint initiative between the city and private entities that feed the homeless.
“I’m going to read the report, talk about it more, understand the recommendations, and then I’m going to focus my time on trying to identify who that is, where they’ll be situated and how we better address these issues at the highest level of government,” he said.
Because he received the report less than an hour before its public release, Nutter said it was too early to discuss specifically how his administration would move to handle the recommendations.
The mayor declined to be drawn into a discussion of an ongoing lawsuit between the city and several groups that feed the homeless, saying his priority this week was digesting the new report and moving to make the homeless get the help they need.
“The court matter is the court matter,” he said. “I’m not over in court. I’m focusing my time and effort in the streets of this city. I don’t want to get distracted on that particular matter.”
Homeless advocates sued the city to overturn Nutter’s executive order, issued in March, that banned large-scale feeding of the homeless outside. Violators faced fines of up to $150. Earlier this month, federal Judge William Yohn Jr., issued a temporary ruling against the order, allowing the continued serving of outdoor meals until he could issue a final ruling in the case.
In the wake of the dispute that led to the suit, Nutter seated the task force to find ways to feed the homeless that might placate both sides.
In addition to Evans, it included members Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, who has spearheaded opposition to the ban; Salomon Vazquez of Connect Church; Bill McMillan with Sunday Breakfast Mission; Bill Golderer, Broad Street Ministry; Adam Bruckner, Philly Restart; Bill Clark, Philabudance; Jay Lewis Felton, Mt Airy C.O.G.I.C.; Joseph Rogers, Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania (MHASP); Joye Presson, Office of Supportive Housing; Mary Horstmann, Mayor’s Office; and Bia Viera, Philadelphia Foundation.
As the School Reform Commission searches for a new superintendent, the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity ramped up its pressure to include more clergy in the selection process during a press conference on Tuesday in front of School District of Philadelphia headquarters on North Broad Street.
Black Clergy president Terrance Griffith and Bright Hope Baptist Church’s Reverend Kevin R. Johnson joined local NAACP president Jerry Mondesire and a slew of local clergy in demanding the school district do all it can to put children first.
“The School District of Philadelphia is undergoing radical education reform with little or no input from taxpayers, parents, students, teachers and voters,” Johnson said, noting that he has two children in the public school system, and they will soon be joined by a third. “Interim appointees, who represent the mayor, governor and business interests, are moving forward with a plan to radically decentralize the district, with no publicly stated and clearly articulated vision on decentralization and how this radical education reform will benefit all children in the school district.”
Johnson and others point to the district’s Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen’s prediction that the district will face a $145 million budget gap for the fiscal year starting July 1, 2012 — and that some have suggested deficits twice as deep. Johnson also referred to City Controller Alan Butkovitiz’s scathing report that outlined the now well-known budget gap of $61 million that the district must close by July of this year.
Johnson blasted the district for basically throwing good money after bad, by hiring contractors and paying them exorbitant fees, while squeezing the services and programs it offers its students.
“In order to address this fiscal crisis, the SRC’s answer has been to hire outside debt-reduction consultants with lucrative short-term multi-million dollar contracts, eliminate Promise Academies, cut summer school, lay off school safety officers and move forward with a plan to decentralize the district,” Johnson said, referring to the $6 million contract the district awarded The Boston Group. “There seems to be a radical education reform agenda being imposed — with no superintendent or captain to steer the ship.”
Mondesire minced no words in placing blame for the crisis facing Philadelphia public education.
“The problem begins right down the street at City Hall — it starts with the mayor, and ends up right here with the SRC, and the governor who cut the funding in education,” Mondesire said, pledging that the NAACP will back the Black Clergy’s moves. “These are the real culprits in this skullduggery. [The SRC] wants to decentralize the system because they eventually want to get to a privatized system, and that would destroy public education.”
While short on providing actual solutions to the multi-pronged issues facing the school district, Griffith made it clear that he was not pleased with the series of meetings the SRC held throughout the city, or with the selection team itself.
“We’re looking for fair education for our kids. Education is not a Center City right, but a right for all children in Philadelphia,” Griffith said. “We are looking for a good superintendent, and we want to be a part of the process. We do not believe the members of the SRC and a few other people should determine who the superintendent is, with some orchestrated community discussions.”
Indeed, the SRC has recently completed the last of 21 meetings throughout the city, during which it gathered information from attending stakeholders on what qualities they are looking for in a new leader. These meetings ran concurrently with discussions on the closure of nine public schools throughout the city. And through some painful cuts — including the reduction of security staff and closing school buildings on weekends — have allowed the district to nearly cut in half its budget gap for this year.
And last week, the SRC released a statement that it had — on Mayor Nutter’s recommendation — added Reverend Albert Campbell, pastor of Mt. Caramel Baptist Church, to its SRC search team committee, a unit that already included mayoral appointments Lori Shorr and Sylvia Simms. Pedro Ramos serves as SRC chairman, and committee members include Len Riser, Patricia DeCarlo, Robert Wonderling, Fred Ginyard, Ed Williams and Ken Kring.
When asked about Reverend Campbell’s appointment to the SRC, Griffith would only say that he “loved Pastor Campbell.”
Campbell, who will celebrate his 46th year as spiritual leader of Mt. Caramel, says his appointment “may have the potential to strain a few relationships,” but Campbell — himself a member of the Black clergy association who once served as secretary for the organization — also believes the integrity and devotion of the members will overcome any disagreement over his appointment.
“I think, for the most part, the brotherhood and the solid foundation that exists among the brothers and sisters who are pastors and part of the pastoral arena will remain intact,” said the 79-year-old Campbell. “So I am reasonably comfortable with our ongoing relationship as it relates to the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and as it relates to the Baptist Pastors and Ministers Conference.
“We’re not strangers, but I am amongst the elders — and there is awareness of my reprioritization of my life.”
Campbell said his relationship with Nutter goes back more than 30 years, when Nutter was a member of the church’s choir. That relationship continued through Nutter’s appointment as City Council president, and then through Nutter’s two successful mayoral campaigns.
“When he decided to run for mayor, we conferred; he consulted me, and I gladly gave him my judgment about the wisdom of his running,” Campbell said. “He was running against the odds; there were two or three other prominent Black politicians who threw their hats in the ring.
“I encouraged him to run,” Campbell continued, “and I have stood by my commitment to support him, be his spiritual consultant as well as one of his up-close and personal critics.”
Meanwhile, the school district also released an update to its “Educational Leadership Criteria” which it will use to select a new superintendent. The new superintendent should “be sensitive to issues of equity within the school system; manage the business aspects of the district with unwavering focus on what is best for the educational enterprise; understand and respect the diversity of the City of Philadelphia; engage, listen to and be responsive to students, families and other stakeholders; be committed to transparency and openness in the management of the school district and understand that excellent schools should be determined by more than standardized test scores, but a collection of school-based outcomes.”
Just in time for the Mummers New Year's Day march up South Broad Street, city leaders applauded the grand re-opening during a ribbon cutting ceremony at the Broad Street Diner. The old Broad Street Diner was in operation at the Broad and Ellsworth Streets location from approximately 1964 until it closed in 2007. Before it closed, the diner was a Delaware Valley dining institution feeding generations of citizens and tourists. The diner and the former adjacent banquet hall was a vacant, dark eyesore along South Broad Street when it was closed down. After months of renovations, Michael’s Family Restaurants (which employs more than 900 employees throughout the region) has provided over 60 jobs at the new Broad Street Diner.
“It's back! The Broad Street Diner is back!” noted Nutter. “We were so sad to see it temporally go away back in 2007 after being such an institution right here in South Philadelphia. This is one of many new, or reopened, restaurants here in the city of Philadelphia. You know that Philadelphia has a national and international reputation for fine dining and art and culture—we are the number one city for arts an culture in the United States of America according to Travel & Leisure Magazine. For almost four years the building sat empty, and could have been a blighted building, but Michael (Petrogiannis) and his family chose to renovate this building, bring it back to life and put Philadelphians back to work. There are 65 employees right here at the Broad Street Diner; 65 folk with jobs at a time of great, great challenge.”
Michael’s Family Restaurants owns 11 restaurants and diners in Philadelphia and the suburbs, including the Melrose Diner, Tiffany Diner, Mayfair Diner, Country Club Restaurant, Michael’s Restaurant/Roosevelt Blvd. and La Veranda Restaurant. The Broad Street Diner has a brand new facade, a new marquee sign and a new handicapped accessible dining area inside.
“Michael saw this landmark and knew he had to purchase it and bring it back to its past glory,” said Philadelphia personality/philanthropist Maria Papadakis. “After months and months of renovations and millions of dollars of investment, the new Broad Street Diner is open and ready to serve Philadelphia for years to come.”
An estimated 50 people attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony held in the BSD parking lot as members of the Avalon String Band and a Ben Franklin impersonator entertained the crowd. The diner, which opened on Dec. 8, stayed open during the event and at least 30 people were inside the diner looking at the event through the windows.
“You know, living here in South Philly for 42 years, this was the place for ribs and after-parties,” recalled Lamont Anderson, a.k.a Monty G. “After midnight, everyone was coming down here getting our grub on at three o'clock in the morning. This is a great place, and I am so glad it re-opened—and yo, it's all good down here in South Philly.”
The Broad Street Diner, located 1135 South Broad St. (at Ellsworth Street), is a 24-hour establishment.
Guns. They seem to be everywhere and everyone seems to have them. This has been one of the main concerns of Mayor Michael Nutter and District Attorney Seth Williams, both raised in West Philadelphia where gun violence has taken its toll on the communities.
Nutters’ controversial Stop and Frisk policy, which allows officers more liberty to stop citizens suspected of carrying illegal firearms, is one method used by the mayor to rid the streets of the guns used in crimes.
While there are those who contend that the measure stigmatizes Black and Latino men amounting to racial profiling, others feel that anything that could help prevent gun violence should be utilized.
It might be a no-brainer for some that guns need to be taken off our streets and more legislation ratified which would control their use in the city limits, however others disagree.
In fact, one piece of legislation, H.R. 822 The National Right-To-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011, would take away a state’s right to determine who could or could not carry a concealed weapon within their state.
On Sep. 13 Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey asked Congress to vote against the measure.
“We have a uniquely diverse nation. What works where I currently serve as commissioner of Philadelphia … does not work for our neighbor across the river in New Jersey,” said Ramsey during the hearing. “This bill would allow people to carry concealed and loaded guns in every state without consideration for the minimum standards created by their governments.”
With 279 shooting deaths in the city this year, not including 2,777 robberies with guns and another 2,039 aggravated assaults with guns Philadelphia is pressured to resolve the gun crisis.
Philadelphia now has another ally in its fight to maintain its right to control gun permits within its borders in Sen. Larry Farnese (D-1st District) who has championed the cause of closing the “Florida Loophole,” or the law which allows those denied permits in Philadelphia to go to Florida and, acquire a gun permit, and carry those guns in Philadelphia where they were initially denied.
“I think that public safety is paramount to Philadelphia success and the ability of Commonwealth to move forward,” said Farnese during an exclusive interview.
According to Farnese, the issue of guns and gun violence extends beyond political boundaries and affect businesses and communities in the region as well.
Businesses go where they feel safe, where their property and clients can be protected. For this reason, gun violence not only cost lives but, according to Farnese, affects the goods and services, along with the employment prospects, in the areas affected.
“We want folks to come to Philadelphia and Pennsylvania and go to our schools and get their degrees but then they leave,” said Farnese about the economic and social impact of crime on the population, “we want them to know that if they want to start their families here they are going to be safe. They are going to be able to have their families and their grandchildren come visit. Those are the kinds of economic viability issues that are going to help Philadelphia and Pennsylvania,” explained Farnese.
Farnese introduced S.B. 622 which now sits in the Judiciary Committee and would, in effect, close the loophole if ratified.
“You cannot ignore that the gun lobby is very large and extremely powerful,” said Farnese, “this is about fixing a loophole, a mistake in the law that is being exploited by bad folks to the detriment of not just innocent men, women and children which should not have them [guns] but it is also an assault on police officers each and every day that are out there on the front lines and they and their family are giving their lives.”
Farnese believes that police officers not only need the necessary tools to ensure that they can do their jobs such as proper equipment, but also need the legislative tools necessary to not only do their jobs but also to help ensure that they can do so more safely.
“When I am at a funeral of a fallen officer and I see their families there, elected officials can certainly provide the cars, the bullet proof vests and the radios but we also need to give them the legislative equipment that they need to make themselves safer,” said Farnese, “I have a real problem with that, if you want to mourn over a fallen police officer who have made the ultimate sacrifice than you should fight the political pressure, say that this loophole is ridiculous, its clearly an exploitation of a hole in the wall and we as legislators should do everything to fix it.”