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Repeal the tax abatement, rent control: Here’s what Philadelphia City Council candidates say they’d do first

Responses varied from repealing the soda tax to rent control to adding more public bathrooms to term limits for Council members.

Candidates for at-large City Council seats hold signs indicating their positions on questions posed during a forum at Congregation Rodeph Shalom March 24, 2019  "to determine if they will help transform the City of Philadelphia to meet the vision of the People’s Platform."
Candidates for at-large City Council seats hold signs indicating their positions on questions posed during a forum at Congregation Rodeph Shalom March 24, 2019 "to determine if they will help transform the City of Philadelphia to meet the vision of the People’s Platform."Read moreTOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

Philadelphia’s laws are set by 17 people on City Council. We asked incumbents and challengers what their first proposed bill would be if they win their party nomination May 21 and the general election this fall.

Not everyone answered the request, which was part of a larger survey the Philadelphia Inquirer circulated to candidates. But here are the answers that we did receive — edited only for relevance and clarity.

Five candidates said their first priority would be to repeal or reform Philadelphia’s 10-year tax abatement, which provides a break on property taxes on new construction. Backers say it has helped spur a building boom in the city, while critics say it encourages gentrification, reduces the stock of affordable housing and costs money that could go to schools.

Another five Council candidates said their first measure would further affordable housing or rent control. A few want to prioritize the environment and three have pitches for government reform — including term limits and limiting the land-use power district council members have, known as councilmanic prerogative.

At-large Democrats

Adrián Rivera-Reyes
The first piece of legislation that I will introduce is legislation that begins enacting a municipal Green New Deal for Philadelphia. As a scientist I rely on facts and data. All the data around climate change points in one direction. We have a ticking clock in front of us, if we don’t begin the process of steeply decreasing our carbon output we will face catastrophic climate change that will negatively impact Philadelphia and the surrounding region. My legislation will have the goal of transitioning our city to zero-carbon emissions by 2030. I believe we can do that by converting our public transit systems to green energy, by updating our building codes by requiring all construction meet LEED gold standards, and transitioning our public utilities to 100% renewable energy by 2030. Importantly, I will craft this legislation with our local economy in mind, ensuring it focuses on promoting investments in clean technology and green energy that will create jobs in the region.
Allan Domb, Incumbent
I have already passed nine bills in my first term and if I am re-elected, the first proposal I plan to focus on will be advancing my legislation to introduce term limits for City Council members.
Asa Khalif
To finally get rid of the 10 year Tax Abatement.
Beth Finn
I will make public banking the centerpiece of my legislative agenda. Every year, our city loses millions of dollars in bank fees and interest payments to big corporate banks that also use that money to invest in ventures that go directly against my values. A public bank maximizes our limited funds for investment by recapturing that money and loaning it to ourselves. A public bank is for the public good. Once established, I also want our public bank to offer basic checking account services to the underbanked and unbanked.
Billy Thompson
Repeal the Philadelphia Sweetened Beverage Tax.
Deja Lynn Alvarez
Housing First Legislation to combat the Homelessness Crisis.
Derek Green, incumbent
The legislation that I will champion is a bill that I hope to pass this year. As the son of a retired school teacher and the father of an Autistic son in the School District, I am deeply concerned regarding the District’s $5 Billion Dollar capital deficit and the impact of deferred maintenance. In Council, my first legislative act was to hold hearings regarding the physical safety of our schools. This hearing was held after the unfortunate death of District employee Chris Trakimas who lost his life after a boiler explosion at F.S. Edmonds Elementary School. Later, I joined the Philly Healthy Schools Initiative to raise awareness regarding various unhealthy conditions of our schools. Accordingly, I introduced Bill #181008 to require the Health and Licenses and Inspection Departments to certify school buildings for asbestos and mold before they can be opened.
Devon Cade
Wealth inequality bill.
Erika Almirón
I will propose the repeal of the 10-year tax abatement for new construction. It will be the first step among many to invest more of the city’s money in our schools.
Eryn Santamoor
Addressing substance use disorder (SUD) on a citywide scale was the motivating factor in my decision to run for City Council At-Large. I plan to be an advocate and leader on this issue as Philadelphians everywhere - individuals and families alike - are managing the generational and immediate impact of this disease. My first action in City Council would be to hold immediate hearings on the current state of this crisis, and then to move forward with a comprehensive policy plan of action rooted in the specific conditions on the ground here in Philadelphia. This will require funding and close cooperation with the Mayor, and I am committed to working with the Administration, my colleagues in Council, our community leaders, and experts to develop solutions that work for people and families. Paramount to any successful plan of action from Council will be continuous and consistent monitoring to ensure our shared goals are being met.
Ethelind Baylor
To reorganize the planning and zoning boards to have qualified members from the community serve as voting members in evaluating and asking the hard questions about proposed developments in our city, accompanied by providing fair wage jobs in sited developments.
Fareed Abdullah
Criminal justice reform.
Fernando Treviño
The first legislation that I’ll champion will be a good government and transparency act, that would implement term limits to council members, end councilmanic prerogative, and establish the creation of public financed elections.
Helen Gym, incumbent
I’m championing an equitable housing agenda via a right to counsel for renters and reforming the city’s 10-year tax abatement. When I learned that one in 14 renters is evicted every year - 70% of whom are black women - I worked with housing advocates to win the first legal defense fund to provide help for families facing eviction. Eviction filings are down 20% since the defense fund and new regulations went into effect. Now I’m pushing to make that fund permanent and establish a right to counsel for renters. With a right to counsel, we can prove that balancing the scales in our courts can stabilize life for renters, landlords, and our neighborhoods. Concurrently, we need to overhaul the 10-year tax abatement, which is now a vehicle for inequitable development and underfunding of our schools. It’s time to change the program to meet the needs of our city’s future. I’ve introduced the broadest package of bills to reform the abatement and will be championing my bills in Council.
Joseph A. Diorio
To increase the age that first offenders can be diverted to the District Attorney’s Youth Aide Panel from 18 to 21 years of age.
Justin DiBerardinis
I believe a future of equitable and sustainable prosperity is possible for Philadelphia. But we need reform to lay a solid foundation. Our system of government remains too opaque, too invested in unilateral power, and too prone to corruption. So I believe we need a full rewrite of the City Charter. We need to reconsider the balance of power between the Mayor and Council. We need a Council that is a real legislature, that can exercise budgetary and legislative oversight; a true system of checks and balances, where zoning, planning, and land decisions are led by professional agencies. I would commit myself to making the public case, building the coalition, and introducing legislation forming a broad, inclusive, city wide charter commission. This will be long, hard work, but I believe it is absolutely essential.
Katherine Gilmore Richardson
The first piece of legislation I would champion would create a City/School District partnership to create a pipeline to City jobs for high school students who attend career/trade and technical schools.
Mark Ross
Fair housing for low and moderate income families.
Ogbonna Paul Hagins
I have several pieces of legislation that deal with environmental justice, alternative energy usage, and the education of fundamental life skills to produce a more literate city.
Sandra Dungee Glenn
Legislation to identify 10 “Transformation Zones” in each of the next 5 years that will target Qualified Opportunity Zone Funds and other state/local incentives to business start-up, growth, and expansion linked to neighborhood based job training and internships; affordable workforce housing; sustainable public spaces; and school-based partnerships in under-resourced neighborhoods.
Sherrie Cohen
Rent control
Vinny Black
End Tax abatement for new construction and enact a property tax abatement for those families earning under 35,000 a year (I would seek to figure out how to do this while still encouraging family formation).
Wayne Allen
A city jobs bill that would create tiered job training for city residents that would enable them to attain full tenured benefits after 10 years of service while at the same time reducing city pension liabilities.

At-large Republicans

Al Taubenberger, incumbent
Changing the current BIRT tax law to be paid quarterly, rather than all at once, which will greatly help start-up businesses to succeed. Paying the tax all at once in Year One for a start-up is hugely burdensom. The key to success in this economy is to help small businesses thrive. Changing the terms of BIRT will help achieve it. As a result of my effort, I was just named Small Business Advocate of the Year by the Fox School of Business.
Bill Heeney
To create a City Crime Victims Advocate Review Board that will be empowered to review any plea decisions by District Attorney Larry Krasner whom I do not trust when it comes to protecting victims’ rights and families of murder victims. A clear pattern has developed that shows he does not properly inform or consult with victims or their families.
Dan Tinney
A taxpayers’ Bill of Rights that requires a larger majority to pass tax increases, implementation of zero based budgeting, and fundamental changes in the financial controls of city government. It is inexcusable that city government has “lost” or “misplaced” tens of millions of tax dollars, it is clear that we need to change how the city manages its citizens’ money.
David Oh, incumbent
As a Councilman At-Large, I am championing several bills at this time. I introduced a bill to take back control of on-street parking. It was heard and tabled in February 2017. I have been fighting to get it re-listed so that the bill can be voted out of Committee or defeated. Just last week, I was able to have the bill moved to a new Committee for a hearing and vote. I introduced a bill to reject this year’s property taxes based on unreliable property assessments as determined by an independent third-party audit. The bill was heard and we were about to vote on it in Committee when we abruptly lost our quorum. I am trying to have the Committee reconvened for a vote. DHS removes children at the highest rate of any large city in America. As a matter of practice, it does not comply with state law. 91% of children removed are not because of abuse. There is evidence of retaliation against parents who complain. National experts testified that Philadelphia is an outlier in need of reform.
Drew Murray
Gentrification is perhaps the number one issue of concern that I have heard so far during my campaign. The first piece of legislation I would champion would be protections for gentrification that would not hinder development in our communities. If done correctly, gentrification can be a good thing for developers, the community and long term residents. Protections in the form of controlled real estate tax increases and incentives for developers to provide affordable housing can ensure that the benefits of gentrification are realized by all. Currently, there are protections for elderly residents (Senior Freeze) and the Longterm Owner Occupied Program (LOOP). Tying real estate tax increases to cost of living/education increases should be another level of protection.
Irina Goldstein
The first thing that needs to change is the sanctuary city policy. Philadelphia has become a hub for drugs and consequent overdose deaths. Recently, an illegal immigrant was released and raped a young child. We need to comply with federal law. Mayor Kenney does not get to make immigration law by unilateral fiat. We are going to work with the U.S. Attorney here to comply with federal regulations to which the city is subject. I.C.E. is predominantly full of patriots who are busting up drug and even human trafficking rings. They are a federal agency with a legal mandate to fulfill a certain mission. I’m done with thumbing our noses at the laws on the books.
Matt Wolfe
I want to see a comprehensive restructuring of Philadelphia’s tax structure. Even if it is revenue neutral (and it shouldn’t be), we need to move it away from taxing jobs and businesses, which can move. I believe that any reform of our taxes can reduce the revenue extracted from our taxpayers with cuts to spending. The city needs to focus on public safety, public education, sanitation and, broadly, the infrastructure needed to run a big city. Programs and any spending that does not fit into these areas needs to be considered for cuts.

District 1

Mark Squilla, Democrat, incumbent
I am currently working on reduction of single-use plastic bags and citywide street cleaning.
Daniel Orsino, Republican
A bill allowing for the construction of a network of public testing and treatment clinics to stop the city’s alarmingly high HIV transmission rates.

District 2

Kenyatta Johnson, Democrat, incumbent
In my next term, my legislative priority will be to continue to toughen the laws that deal with illegal dumping. The city has made some progress on this issue, but I think we can do even more. This is a significant problem in the Second District and we need to do more to crack down on people who dump their trash in our communities. I would like to get even tougher on illegal dumping by further increasing fines and implementing harsher criminal penalties. I’d also like to increase the resources we dedicate to preventing the crime and catching perpetrators. That means putting more resources into enforcement, increasing the number of surveillance cameras, and educating businesses about the penalties for illegal dumping.
Lauren Vidas, Democrat
The first package of legislation will be an ethics reform package:
1) Term Limits: Term limits instill a sense of urgency in Councilmembers and ensure that power is spread among a more diverse group of people - not just party insiders or chosen successors as is often the case.
2) Campaign Finance Reform: Change campaign finance laws to apply the limits to election cycle rather than the calendar year. In addition to reducing the amount of pre-election year money an incumbent could raise, this would also ensure that our electeds spent more time governing and less time fundraising during their four-year terms.
3) Ending Pay-to-Play: In order to curb the abuses of councilmanic prerogative, we must extend and strengthen our pay-to-play laws to cover all land and zoning transactions that go through City Council. I will introduce the strictest prohibition on developer political contributions that the law allows.

District 3

Jannie Blackwell, Democrat, incumbent
Consistent funding for the Housing Trust Fund and for Education are the issues I will attack at the beginning of the next term. We need to determine how existing taxes and fees can be diverted as dedicated funding for Education and for Affordable Housing initiatives (Ownership, Rental and Repair). A compromise between Council and the Mayor was reached which provides millions of dollars for Affordable Housing. We need to do more to ensure that there are affordable units for our senior citizens and those who require accessible units. We need funding for housing counselors and to tighten up restrictions on local counseling for Reverse Mortgages. The new Restore, Repair, Renew program and the American Water Resources program help homeowners manage the upkeep of an aging housing stock. I will continue to work to help stabilize our working families and provide the safety nets for the most vulnerable in our City.
Jamie Gauthier, Democrat
The first piece of legislation I’d champion is ending the 10-year tax abatement, to ensure we have additional, vital funding for our schools. This could also help to stem gentrification in the city and in the 3rd district.

District 4

Curtis Jones Jr., Democrat, incumbent
It’s too late for a first but if successful in seeking re-election, I will take on Affordable housing and breaking the school to prison pipeline by creating a school to paycheck pipeline.
Ronald James Adams, Democrat
Tax abatement reform. With a 26% percent poverty rate and our schools so under funded, it’s past time to enact legislation to either cap, slowly reduce or target the tax abatement in Philadelphia. I was happy that councilwoman Gym introduced tax abatement reform last year, and was disappointed it was tabled. If elected this will be the first piece of legislation I would champion.

District 6

Pete Smith, Republican
The Elimination of The Beverage tax. This tax, which now has been alleged to be a retaliation, has cost over 1,100 jobs, closed businesses, and forced residents to purchase groceries outside the city causing loss of tax revenue.

District 7

Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, Democrat, incumbent
I will continue my very progressive agenda on equitable development. I will continue to use my role as Chair of Appropriations to review how departments view their role in combating poverty and improving the quality of life for all residents. The administration moved from zero-based budgeting to performance-based budgeting but has not been able to demonstrate efficiencies or better delivery of services.

District 8

Cindy Bass, Democrat, incumbent
The next piece of legislation I will champion will deal with ensuring more City contracts give a preference to women and minority owned businesses that are based in the Philadelphia region. We cannot expect to address wealth building and poverty without finding ways to recycle our dollars locally.

District 9

Cherelle Parker, Democrat, incumbent
I will continue efforts from my first term to improve the quality of life in the 9th District by focusing on the preservation, stabilization, and growth of our neighborhoods, including:
• Implementing a low-interest, home repair loan program to preserve current housing stock
• Eliminating the backlog for the city’s home repair grant programs (ongoing)
• Enhancing Neighborhood Commercial Corridors with improvements such as managers, branding, lighting, trash receptacles, cameras, and façade and streetscape upgrades (ongoing)
• Creating “Power Up Your Business”, a free small business development program through Community College of Philadelphia (ongoing)
• Overseeing the reconstruction of Olney and Lawncrest recreation centers as part of Rebuild (ongoing)

District 10

Brian O’Neill, Republican, incumbent
During my time in public office, my legislative priorities have focused on zoning and quality of life issues affecting my Far Northeast Philadelphia constituents.