Eric is a general assignment reporter for The Philadelphia Tribune
Halfway into his term, support for Gov. Tom Corbett is sinking, according to a Quinnipiac Poll released this week, with a majority of Pennsylvanians saying he does not deserve another four years in office.
“There is no strong base of support for Gov. Corbett among any income or age group, or in any region of the state,” noted the poll, which was released Tuesday.
The governor’s support among Blacks was particularly weak.
Poll data showed that only 28 percent of Blacks said Corbett should have a second term; 57 percent said he shouldn’t be re-elected.
Support among whites was only marginally better.
Quinnipiac found that 30 percent of whites polled said Corbett should be given a second term, 50 percent said he should not.
Overall, the poll found that Corbett’s approval rating has fallen since November — moving from 38 to 36 percent of those polled. That was mirrored in a rise in those who did not approve, a number that rose to 42 percent from 40 percent over the last two months.
In addition, 51 percent of those polled said he should not be re-elected. That compares to 31 percent who said Corbett has earned a second term.
“It’s halftime in … Corbett’s first term and if he were running a football team instead of a state, he’d fire his offensive coordinator,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
The poll found that Corbett has greater support among men than among women, but lacked strong support among both. Even among Republicans he failed to muster support from a majority.
Pollsters found that 54 percent of women said Corbett should not be re-elected; 24 percent said he should. Among men, 48 said he did not warrant a second term compared to 38 percent who supported four more years.
Only 49 percent of Republicans said he should be re-elected.
He has consistently polled poorly among women.
“Corbett has hit the 50 percent approval rating only once so far, mainly because of his bad grades from women,” Malloy said.
The state’s urban areas showed little support for Corbett, but the number of voters who disapprove of the governor was equaled in rural areas too.
In Philadelphia, 53 percent of those polled said he did not deserve a second term. That compares to 59 percent in Allegheny County, whose largest city is Pittsburgh. Those figures were rivaled by numbers in the rural southwest and northeast corners of the state where Corbett garnered disapproval ratings of 58 and 53 percent respectively.
In related findings, Quinnipiac reported that a majority of Pennsylvanians — Black and white —were dissatisfied with the direction the state was headed.
Pollsters found that 54 percent of whites were at least “somewhat dissatisfied” and 58 percent of Blacks were too. Nearly half of Republicans reported being unhappy with the state’s future prospects, with 46 percent saying they were at least “somewhat dissatisfied. That compared to 61 percent of Democrats.
If appealed, state’s Supreme Court will make final decision
In a move sure to re-ignite the controversy surrounding the state’s voter ID law, Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson has set a date for the case against the law.
The trial will be held at 10 a.m. on July 15 in courtroom 3001 at the judicial center in Harrisburg.
Simpson, the same judge who has twice made rulings on the law — once ordering it upheld, and once delaying its implementation — issued his scheduling order Tuesday. He will preside over the trial, which is expected to last about a week.
The ACLU immediately announced that it intended to file a motion to extend the preliminary injunction, which delayed implementation of the law last fall, until after the trial.
“We will file a motion for preliminary injunction to block enforcement of the law for the [May 21] primary,” said Vic Walczak, legal director of the Philadelphia ACLU.
Anticipating the ACLU’s move, Simpson, in his order, set a Feb. 8 deadline for filing motions to extend. The state was given until Feb. 13 to file its response. Simpson expected to rule on an extension by March 21.
It is a situation that could create some voter confusion in May, Walczak said, adding that the ACLU’s primary concern was delaying the law until after a trial.
“If they don’t have to show ID, that’s the optimum,” he said. “Is some confusion going to occur? I think it’s inevitable. But, our focus is preventing enforcement of the law, which we think is going to lead to widespread disenfranchisement.”
Any decision made in July is likely to be appealed to the state Supreme Court.
Walczak said he expected an appeal no matter which side wins, and that ultimately the case will go before the state Supreme Court, which will settle the matter once and for all. Because the current case deals only with state law, appeals cannot go above the state Supreme Court.
“The only claims we’ve made in this case are under the state constitution,” he said. “So, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has the final word.”
In October, after a court battle that reached the state’s highest court, Simpson, at the Supreme Court’s command to review his previous ruling, ordered that the law be delayed until after the presidential election.
Simpson’s charge from the state Supreme Court was not to rule on the constitutionality of the law, but to delay it if he found that it disenfranchised voters. At the time, he noted that only five weeks remained until Election Day, Simpson said that was not enough to time for all votes to get ID even as the number of IDs issued has continue to increase.
If it stands, the law will be among the nation’s toughest.
A number of states pushed through voter ID laws over the last two years — 16 states require photo identification — a total of 34 require some form of ID.
Pennsylvania’s law was passed in March by the Republican legislature and signed soon after by Gov. Tom Corbett. It required voters to have a state-approved photo ID to cast their ballots. Critics charged that the law was an attempt by the Republican-dominated state government to oust President Barack Obama in November.
Estimates about how many voters it would disenfranchise varied greatly. Most projections suggested it would have a disproportionate impact on Black voters. Numbers compiled by the Tribune suggested that 39 percent of Black and Latino active voters — as many as 152,000 and 37,000 people respectively — in Philadelphia could be disenfranchised by the law. That compared to 20 percent of white voters.
Perhaps the most surprising debate around the city’s move to a property tax system based on the full value of a property rather than a fraction of its worth is whether or not City Council is actually debating it.
According to Council President Darrell Clarke, the fate of the move to AVI — short for Actual Value Initiative — is up in the air. According to Councilman Bill Green, it’s a done deal.
“Nine people have to vote for it,” Clarke said.
That will happen when Council votes on a city budget. It’s too early to say when that vote will take place, but Council must have a budget in place by July.
Green, in what was almost a throwaway line at last week’s City Council meeting, said AVI was in place – enacted last year and that the only thing up for debate was the tax rate. In conversation on Friday, he explained further.
“When Council passed a budget last year … they passed the formula that the mayor wanted to be in place last year,” he said. “So, without any action by Council, the Actual Value Initiative will be enacted on a revenue-neutral basis. There is no debate.”
When asked about Green’s statements, Clarke said he had a different take on the situation.
“I think he’s inaccurate,” Clarke said about Green’s remarks.
That did not mean that AVI wouldn’t move, Clarke said.
“We need to move it ahead,” he said. “Is there a chance [it would fail]? I can’t make people vote for something.”
What both men agreed on was that Council will have to approve a tax rate.
Green said the only thing needed was a tax rate so the tax bills could be sent out. Clarke agreed that the heart of the matter is the tax rate.
Recent numbers from the administration suggest that the tax rate will be around 1.44 percent. That number is subject to change as city officials continue a citywide assessment which changes the total value of taxable property that has been estimated to range from approximately $98 billion to $102 billion.
However, City Council finds itself in much the same situation as last year, when it delayed action on AVI. At that time, Council was frustrated with the administration’s lack of assessment data and declined to put reforms into place for the coming tax year.
The administration has promised that the shift to actual value will be revenue neutral – meaning that tax revenue will remain level this year. So, the tax rate will be calculated using the total value of real estate in the city and total revenue.
Clarke said Monday he still hasn’t seen final numbers.
“We don’t even have the numbers yet,” he said, adding that he wouldn’t discuss the rate until he had. “If we can’t get nine people to vote for a measure, as relates to rates, it doesn’t really matter.”
In any event, as Council moves toward AVI, the issue seems likely to stir up a great deal of change.
The issue was in the spotlight again this week as the state House Democratic Policy Committee held a hearing in Philadelphia to take testimony on a package of bills related to AVI that the city’s state delegation hopes will be voted on early this year. Approximately 20 members met Monday at the National Constitution Center for the hearing.
The package of four bills would offer a variety of measures that would ease the shift to AVI for many property owners.
Under one of the bills, the city would be authorized to place liens on all properties a delinquent taxpayer owns anywhere in Pennsylvania, if property taxes in Philadelphia are unpaid. The second bill would allow the city to set two property tax rates – one residential and one commercial. State law now mandates that rates be uniform. The third proposal would allow Philadelphia residents to pay their property taxes in installments. The fourth would amend the state code to allow the city to give tax exemptions based on age and income.
The package seems to have the support of Council leaders and the administration.
“You cannot emphasize enough the need to do this,” Clarke said, testifying Monday.
City Finance Director Rob Dubow voiced similar support for the proposals.
Council members are struggling to find ways to protect long-time homeowners – a group classified by state law as homeowners who have owned their homes for 10 years or more – from the possibility of skyrocketing property taxes.
“We must be sensitive to the fact that some residents will experience substantial - and even in some cases extraordinary - increases in their property taxes,” Clarke said in testimony. “We seek to protect long-term, owner occupants where homeowners are already struggling.”
Administration officials have been reluctant to discuss the exact impact of AVI except to say that for some taxes would go up and for others they would go down.
Dealing with many of the issues Council members expect often requires enabling legislation from the state level, something the package of bills was aimed at addressing.
State Rep. Cherelle L. Parker noted that city and state lawmakers had worked together on the package pointing out that the bills were crafted to leave local lawmakers some wiggle room.
Clarke said that was essential.
“To put the burden on you to come with detailed legislation for things we have to deal with here in the City of Philadelphia, quite frankly, is not fair,” he said, noting that during last year’s budget talks, “We changed our minds daily.”
Clarke assured state legislators that the city would keep the state in the loop.
“You giving us the authority on the local level…is very important to us,” he said. “When we do anything, we talk to you all.”
WorkReady program promotes internships for teens
Somaly Srey’s life was changed by an internship — an opportunity that opened up her horizons and helped her settle on a career path. City and business officials want to give other teenagers a similar chance.
“As a result of my internship I was offered employment opportunities, said Srey, a 2007 graduate of John Bartram High School who once interned at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in the oncology department. “My internship at CHOP was one of the best experiences I had.”
Prior to her work at the hospital, Srey had not considered a job in health care, but after working there as a summer intern she decided to pursue a career in one of the nation’s fastest growing economic sectors.
The 24-year-old, who now works at CHOP as a clinical research coordinator and is pursuing a graduate degree, spoke at a press conference held by Mayor Michael Nutter as he announced a challenge to the city’s business community — asking the city’s 30,000 employers to hire 10,000 teenagers this summer for a minimum of six weeks in July and August through the WorkReady program.
“I’m challenging the entire city of Philadelphia to come together and create 10,000 summer jobs for 2013,” said the mayor, urging big businesses, small businesses, nonprofit organizations and individuals to work together on job creation. “What has been happening is not enough.”
Last year, roughly 6,500 teens got internships through the WorkReady program. Organizers said more than 15,000 young adults applied for a slot. So, Nutter decided to issue his challenge to the business community.
Nutter said about 5,000 slots have been opened up, and that he personally would be campaigning for businesses and nonprofits to create more.
Thanking businesses for their hiring last year, he added, “We need more. Nationwide, youth employment is at its lowest level since World War II.”
Pennsylvania’s youth unemployment rate is roughly 15 percent higher than the average, according to the U.S. labor bureau in November. Nutter’s challenge more than doubles the 5,000 slots that employment experts expect for the city.
The program has the endorsement of business leaders.
“It’s a critical issue,” said Dan Fitzpatrick, chairman of the board of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce and regional CEO for Citizens Bank. “We can’t grow economically if we don’t improve the skillsets of our young people. It starts with education and workforce development.”
Nutter linked the program to the city’s economic future.
“The economic vitality of our city comes from a highly skilled and well-trained workforce,” he said. “This is a chance to make sure that the next generation of Philadelphia’s workers are already a step or two ahead.”
For employers who can’t hire a teen, the WorkReady program allows companies and individuals to sponsor an internship at another employer, or make a contribution toward the program, which will be used to place a teen in another slot or subsidize employment through another employer.
More information is available on the Web at www.phillysummerjobs.org.
Just in time for budget season, it’s possible to track city spending down to the penny, through a new Web tool launched this week by Brett Mandel, as part of his campaign for city controller.
“Unless we have the ability to see where every single dollar is spent, we end up having the kind of ridiculous debates we’ve had in recent years, where we take what we spent last year and we only tweak it at the margins,” he said.
Armed with every detail of city spending, Mandel is hoping his Web tool will arm residents with information and provoke a budget conversation that goes much deeper that the typical budget talks.
If you are able to see where every penny of your tax dollar goes you’re able to say ‘wait a second, I’m not so sure we want to be spending here,’” he said. “I want real Philadelphians to get involved in the debates over how our tax dollars are raised and spent.”
Launched on Tuesday, the Web tool is a data tree based on last year’s budget information, provided by the city, which lists spending on all line items across city departments. Users can enter the individual budget item they’d like to see and find all of financial information tied to it.
Data is so detailed that users can search for spending by department or the salaries of individual employees and the travel reimbursements they collect.
Few people, even city officials like council members ever see the city’s budget in such rich detail, Mandel said.
“Nobody – not city council, not the mayor – has seen this level of detail at the click of a mouse,” he said. “They don’t see where every single dollar goes.”
Acknowledging the fact that the Web tool was brand new, Mandel said he hadn’t gotten any negative feedback on the idea.
But, in a phone conversation late Tuesday afternoon, Controller Alan Butkovitz said the information on the site was inaccurate.
“He said I’m making $128,000 but does not note anywhere that I’m giving back about $20,000 to the city since the 2008 economic downturn,” Butkovitz said. “If you’re going to put up a website and say this provides accurate data … the first rule is accuracy. You’ve got to vet this thing and make sure your numbers are consistent. He didn’t bother to check the data.”
Mandel said he hopes the tool will demonstrate his approach to running the controllers should he win his battle to beat Butkovitz.
“I don’t believe the incumbent is showing us where we can be more efficient — more effective,” Mandel said. “So, I put this up to illustrate the fact that I can do this.”
He pledged to continue the tool if elected and include constantly updated budget information.
Butkovitz said it was indeed a demonstration of Mandel’s style.
“It’s the worst kind of uncorroborated gossip,” Butkovitz said. “And, it kind of indicates that he’s a shoot from the hip guy.”
The primary contest for controller is likely to be among the most watched in the city during the spring election season.