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Kenney promises: No new taxes

A year after creating a controversial tax on all sweetened beverages, Mayor Kenney has vowed to not raise or create any taxes in 2017.

The announcement drew applause from 1,400 people at the annual Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce mayoral luncheon Thursday.

Kenney thanked the business community for supporting his biggest agenda item last year: a sweetened-beverage tax to pay for expanded pre-kindergarten, community schools, and improvements to parks and recreation centers.

"Last year the chamber did not oppose the beverage tax, which is helping to create a stronger economy for all Philadelphians," Kenney said. "I thank you for that support, and in recognition of all our businesses are doing for our children and our neighborhoods, I will propose to Council in my upcoming budget address that the city not levy any new taxes and that we continue to lower wage and business taxes."

With that, Kenney took a tone of collaboration for the rest of the speech. He talked about infrastructure improvements and developing a trained workforce, among other efforts, he said, on which the administration and the business community have come together this last year.

The mayor's address came 10 days after Kenney signed a controversial bill that bans Philadelphia employers from asking job applicants for their salary history. The chamber strongly opposed the bill and Comcast Corp. threatened to sue the city over it.

On Thursday, though, the two men who bitterly fought the new wage law were all smiles.

"I'm thrilled to be here with all of you to help celebrate Mayor Kenney's very successful first year," David L. Cohen, Comcast senior executive vice president, told the crowd before praising Kenney's ability to get funding for pre-kindergarten.

Rob Wonderling, president and CEO of the chamber, commended Kenney's speech.

"It was really great to hear the mayor give an account over the last year of how we've worked together, of how we've made progress on such things as universal pre-K, some growth and improvement on how the city operates with the business community, and the need to continue to be vigilant on such things as educational funding in Harrisburg," Wonderling said after the luncheon.

During his 25-minute speech, Kenney gave some hints as to what's to come this year. Among them:

  1. The administration will launch a transportation and planning effort that will look at improving the way the city moves people and goods, as well as more reliable and better access to transportation throughout the city.

  2. This month, the administration and the School District will announce an Out-of-School Time strategy to improve literacy after school and build on the city's community school effort.

  3. The city is creating a recruitment strategy to attract a more diverse workforce to the building trades that will be involved in the mayor's $500 million Rebuild initiative.

While Kenney talked about many of the city's achievements, including a 40-year-low crime rate, he said poverty is still a major challenge.

He asked the business community to lobby state officials to increase education funding for Philadelphia. He said many businesses have decided to not settle in Philadelphia because of the schools.

"I need you to tell these stories to your friends in the Republican state legislature and make the economic case for investing in Philadelphia public schools," Kenney said. "If the business community stood together on this issue, I have no doubt you would succeed, and the long-term benefit to your business and to our city's economy would be immeasurable."

Kenney also asked the business owners to develop a summer jobs program and help teach the city's youths some skills. He also asked them to hire people coming out of incarceration.

"Together, I know we can create a Philadelphia that works for everyone. That is our goal, that is our mission, that's the mission of everyone in this room," Kenney said. "We are committed to work together to fix these issues and to move Philadelphia forward."

An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed David L. Cohen's title. He is senior executive vice president of  Comcast.