February 19, 2021
City finances: Tough times will continue

The economic devastation caused by COVID has left a $450 million hole in Philadelphia’s $5.1 billion municipal budget. “Cuts, taxes and privatization” are the likely result, as WHYY put it. The city has already canceled the 1% “early-bird” discount on real-estate taxes and the Water Department wants to raise rates by 16.9%. We’ll know more when Mayor Kenney delivers his annual budget address on April 15, more than a month later than usual, most likely because city officials are waiting for the federal relief bill to come to the rescue. But although President Biden has proposed $350 billion for local and state governments, Republicans have expressed opposition, and “even with federal stimulus, cuts are going to be needed,” Philadelphia Budget Director Marisa Waxman told reporters.
  • So let’s think again about the wage tax: In his Sunday Inquirer column, economic consultant Joel Naroff listed the pandemic’s immediate and potential long-term effects on the wage tax. Payments from commuters make up some 40% of total revenue, and when they work at home outside the city they don’t pay. They don’t buy stuff in town, either, reducing sales-tax receipts. We need to restart the conversation on alternatives.
Are you on the Annual Mail-in Voting List?

If you voted by mail last year, an application to do it again this year will soon be arriving in your mailbox, if it hasn’t already. That is, you’ll receive an application IF you checked the “Yes” box to this question on last year’s application form: “Would [you] like to apply to receive mail-in ballots for the remainder of this year and would [you] like to automatically receive an annual application for mail-in ballots each year?” Your “Yes” put you on the Annual Mail-in Voting List. Not sure if you’re on the list? Check online.
  • In any case, if you want to vote by mail again in 2021 you must reapply: Do it online! Processing online applications is easier and cheaper for election staff than dealing with paper. The application deadline for the May 18 primary is May 11.
  • You can cancel your Annual Mail-in status, too: But you have to download a form that must then be delivered to your local election office. And yes, this option should also be online.
Bad news and good news on the news front

The bad news: Aldan Global Capital, a hedge fund with a reputation for slashing costs, has agreed to buy the Tribune company, owner of the Chicago Tribune and New York’s Daily News, as well as South Florida’s Sun Sentinel, the Orlando Sentinel, the Hartford Courant and Allentown’s Morning Call. Good news for shareholders, perhaps, but not for the journalists at those papers or the readers in those communities.

The good news: Following the purchase agreement, Aldan agreed to sell another iconic Tribune paper, The Baltimore Sun, and several other Maryland papers Tribune owns, to Stewart Bainum Jr., a Maryland businessman and onetime state legislator, who has set up a nonprofit foundation to oversee it. The arrangement is similar to the Lenfest Institute’s relationship to The Inquirer, one model to sustain quality journalism that’s been decimated as hardcopy readership has declined.
Caught our eye
Teaching civics in school isn’t enough; students must learn information literacy as well, York Suburban School District superintendent Timothy Williams writes in a PA Capital-Star op-ed.
On our radar
Stop misinformation now: Our democracy depends on it, Muhlenberg College political science professor Lanethea Mathews-Schultz writes in an Inquirer op-ed based on her college’s poll on Pennsylvanians’ attitudes about the 2020 election.
No excuse: Reining in no-excuse mail-in voting and banning drop boxes won't deter fraud, according to a new study by the R Street Institute, a free market oriented public-policy research group.
Moderating influence: Alaska Public Media reports that Sen. Lisa Murkowski might have been emboldened to vote for conviction in Donald Trump’s impeachment trial because she’ll face all voters, not just Republicans in next year’s primary, when Alaska introduces open primaries and ranked-choice voting.
Taxing tech: Maryland lawmakers overrode a gubernatorial veto to become the first state to impose a tax on revenue from digital ads.
Google vs. Facebook Down Under: Business Insider has an explainer on why Google has agreed to pay publishers for news content in Australia and Facebook hasn’t in the face of a government threat to mandate payment.
Redistricting landscape: NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice released a new report on the threat of gerrymandering in each state.
Mea culpa: Philly State Sen. Anthony Williams admitted to campaign-finance violations during his 2019 mayoral bid, KYW reports.
Get involved
Draw the Lines 2021 Competition
Deadline: June 1

This spring is the final Draw the Lines competition using old data and software before the process starts for real using data from the 2020 Census. The deadline for maps to the competition: Tues, June 1st. While we wait for that data, you can still win thousands of dollars by drawing a demonstration map, either congressional, state senate, or state house. Visit our Draw a Map page to get started. Once you've done the preparation steps, complete the embedded form and you'll then see a link to the mapping platform designed specifically for Draw the Lines. Questions? Let us know!
For the first time in our 117-year history, Seventy has created a membership program to broaden, diversify and expand our community of local democracy-builders. Your membership also provides unique opportunities to meet civic leaders and policy experts, gain inside knowledge of the reform process, and connect with people who are passionate about our city and commonwealth.
Become a member today!