VOTERS will find four referendum questions on Tuesday's ballot. Here are the questions and our recommendations for how to vote:
* 1. Shall the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to allow for the establishment of an independent rate-making body for fixing and regulating water and sewer rates and charges ?
Reason: Right now, the water commissioner has the power to establish water and sewer rates. While that suggests that the public or elected officials have no say in the processs, that's not entirely true: The City Council president, the mayor, and the controller appoint a hearing officer and a public advocate to review rate requests in a process that takes at least a year. (Though they don't have final authority.) We're swayed by the fact that the current system was created more than 60 years ago specifically to get politics out of the rate-making process.
Water quality, storm-water capabilities and aging water infrastructure are too critical to leave to the political winds. That said, more transparency in rate-setting should be a goal.
* 2. Shall the charter be amended to authorize requirements for additional information to be submitted with the annual operating budget, annual capital budget and capital program?
Reason: Today, when the city spends money, it doesn't first have to prove that those expenditures will be effective. This question allows Council to require the mayor to provide more information, like actual evidence that city programs are working. We think that this idea, known as "program-based budgeting," is a good one. The Nutter administration supports this idea in principle, but city officials say they can't back the proposal now without a new computer system. But what better way to spend taxpayer dollars than on technology that would reveal whether the city is spending the rest of our money well?
* 3. Should the charter - which allows for a preference in the civil-service regulations for the children of Philadelphia firefighters or police officers who were killed or who died in the line of duty- be amended to further allow for a preference for the grandchildren of such firefighters or police officers?
Reason: We're not sure why this extension of hiring preferences is necessary, but the families of fallen firefighters or cops have made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of the rest of us. It's hard to see a down side here.
* 4. Should the city . . . borrow $123,670,000 to be spent for and toward capital purposes as follows: transit; streets and sanitation; municipal buildings; parks, recreation and museums; and economic and community development?
Reason: This question empowers voters to decide how millions of public dollars are spent. It asks if the city should borrow more than $123 million for capital projects to repair streets, parks and other public property. Recreation and police buildings, and parks are in shambles, so the answer is obviously yes. But details on how the money would be spent is scant and hard to find online. Voters have a big role in this spending decision, and if the city takes that role seriously, it should give voters more detailed information about this spending.