Philadelphians will decide next week whether the city should borrow $185 million for government buildings, streets and sanitation, parks and recreation, and more, one of three ballot questions before voters in Tuesday’s general election.

Rob Dubow, the city’s finance director, said passage of the ballot question is important for Philadelphia’s infrastructure. The money borrowed would also help fund transportation and museums, as well as economic and community development.

If voters approve the measure, it would add to the city’s $5 billion debt from bonds, which comprises $1.5 billion in general obligation bonds as well as $3.5 billion in bonds from other sources. The newly issued debt would be paid off over 20 years.

These types of ballot questions typically pass, said Pat Christmas, policy director at the local government watchdog group Committee of Seventy.

“What’s certainly true is that if the city were not able to borrow on a fairly regular basis to invest in this infrastructure, that would be problematic," he said. “So there’s no doubt in this bond issuance, there’s going to be funds made available for important stuff that the city does need.”

$4.8 million
Streets and Sanitation
$45.6 million
Municipal buildings
$88 million
Parks, recreation, and museums
$25.9 million
Economic and community development
$20.7 million
$185 million

The projects funded by the new debt may bleed into different fiscal years, but the $185 million is intended to support what’s outlined in the the city’s 2020 budget, said Peilin Chen, deputy budget director for capital projects. That includes purchases of new vehicles, the city’s Rebuild initiative, Indego bike sharing, covering part of I-95, and repaving streets.

More than a quarter of the borrowing is “directly related to departments and facilities that help ensure public safety and justice," according to the capital program’s executive summary.

Mayor Jim Kenney, who has previously highlighted repaving and potholes as “major concerns,” is investing more than $200 million in a six-year program that aims to repave 131 miles of roadways annually.

It’s not the first time Philly voters have faced such a question: Similar language has appeared on the ballot consistently for about two decades, with the most recent example in November 2018, when a $181 million ask was approved.

“We have a lot of big projects that were underway, and we knew that this would happen because as construction cycles go, they tend to ramp up over time, and that’s why capital projects are budgeted in a longterm sort of structure," Chen said.

Dubow said he’s “optimistic” that voters will approve the measure Tuesday.

Two other ballot questions

Voters will be asked to decide on a change to the city’s Home Rule Charter concerning contract bidding, as well as on a controversial statewide constitutional amendment concerning victims’ rights.

The charter change would boost the threshold amount for a formal bidding process on city contracts from $34,000 to $75,000, and $100,000 for local businesses. That amount is closer to the threshold seen in other major cities, according to the Committee of Seventy, and looks to make the contract process for local businesses a bit easier. Specifically, it asks:

Shall The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to revise City procurement procedures by increasing the sealed bidding threshold; by providing for procurement from local businesses; and by providing for Procurement Department regulations?

The last question asks Pennsylvanians to decide on Marsy’s Law — the proposed constitutional amendment that guarantees crime victims and their families certain rights. Some say its implementation could result in unintended consequences. Here’s how it will look on the ballot:

Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to grant certain rights to crime victims, including to be treated with fairness, respect and dignity; considering their safety in bail proceedings; timely notice and opportunity to take part in public proceedings; reasonable protection from the accused; right to refuse discovery requests made by the accused; restitution and return of property; proceedings free from delay; and to be informed of these rights, so they can enforce them?

And while that question may be on Tuesday’s ballot, votes on it won’t be counted — not until state courts step in, at least. Ruling in favor of a lawsuit filed by the ACLU, a commonwealth court judge said this week that passage would have “immediate, profound, and in some instances, irreversible, consequences on the constitutional rights of the accused.”