June 11, 2021
GOP election bill introduced: What happens next?

At a combative Wednesday press conference, Gov. Wolf told reporters that he won’t accept any “barriers to voting”, anticipating a sweeping election-reform bill that House Republicans unveiled the next day. Democrats cite voter ID and signature matching for mail-in ballots as two of the biggest barriers. Republicans argue such provisions are necessary for election integrity and that other reforms in the package like early voting make it easier to cast a ballot. Ultimately, any change in election law will require some degree of bipartisan agreement, and it remains unclear whether the differences can be resolved. Another option recently suggested by Senate State Government Committee chair Dave Argall (R-Schuylkill) would be to put forward the various issues in individual bills; some may pass, others would not.
  • Priority No. 1 is ballot processing and curing: Both parties say they’re for allowing election officials to begin processing mail-in ballots before Election Day. Providing this time for counties while allowing voters to address issues like missing signatures on their return envelopes would be a huge win. If no other reforms are possible, these must get done.
State budget: It’s raining dollars from D.C.

The American Rescue Plan has dumped $7.3 billion (over three years) in Harrisburg’s lap and that, combined with stronger-than expected sales-tax receipts, could give state officials a surplus of up to $3 billion. However, as the PA Capital-Star put it, “the question of how to spend these dollars has quickly, and predictably, cleaved along party lines." The Republican legislative majority wants to save the money for projected future revenue shortfalls. Gov. Tom Wolf and legislative Democrats want to invest in causes ranging from gun violence awareness to repairing roadways and funding public schools. Standing behind a lectern that displayed a message saying that PA ranks 45th in school funding this week, the governor called for a $1.35 billion boost.
  • What else is in the budget? Gov. Wolf’s $37.8 billion plan also calls for funding increases for pre-K and childcare, a minimum-wage hike and a charter school overhaul that would save school districts money but that critics say would harm charter schools. The budget deadline is June 30, but as we’ve seen many times in the past, that’s fungible.
City budget: It’s raining on Billy Penn’s hat, too

Philly pols find themselves with a cushion of their own. The $1.4 billion cash infusion has made talk of pandemic-related deficits go away, and now officials, business interests and activists are arguing about how to divide Mayor Kenney’s $5.2 billion budget, and on cutting taxes (on parking, wages and businesses) instead of programs, with many activists prioritizing anti-violence funding. The budget deadline is July 1, but Council’s last session before then is June 24.
  • Watch what you spend: Controller Rebecca Rhynhart wants to track stimulus money to ensure investments are paying off on priorities like anti-violence programming and restoring pandemic-related cuts to libraries, parks and other city services.
  • Be more creative? An Inquirer editorial asserts that the Mayor's proposal, and much of the debate over it, is too "predictable," and calls for bolder uses of the stimulus money.
Time to scrap Philly’s “Rule of Two”

Council member Cherelle Parker’s proposal to eliminate the “Rule of Two” from the Home Rule Charter is long overdue and we applaud it. Enacted in the early 1950s, the rule limits city managers to consider in hiring or promotions only the two individuals who score highest on a standardized civil-service exam. This provision and others in the civil service system were intended to curtail the patronage that was rife at the time, and it worked: Today, patronage jobs are generally limited to a few entities like the Parking Authority and Register of Wills that operate outside the civil service. The measure has 11 co-sponsors and Mayor Kenney supports it, so look for the question to appear on the November ballot.
  • We’re an outlier: A 2018 Pew analysis found Philadelphia to have one of the most cumbersome civil service systems among 30 major cities, and highlighted the Rule of Two as unusually restrictive.
  • Seventy says: When it comes to hiring for city jobs, we believe that “the overriding challenge is to create and maintain a diverse, highly qualified and effective workforce. Granted, these goals are multifaceted and not easily achieved, but our assessment is that the Rule of Two stymies progress.” See our full testimony.
Caught our eye
With congressional districts set to be redrawn later this year, these activists are banding together to stop gerrymandering in their community. Watch the video.
Lauren Vidas’ City Hall Roll Call, powered by the Committee of Seventy, provides a detailed accounting of the latest from City Council each week Council is in session. To read the latest roundup or get it delivered straight to your inbox, click here.
On our radar
Straight lines this time, but… C70 CEO David Thornburgh tells Pittsburgh’s TribLive that while he’s optimistic divided power will help mitigate the risk of egregious gerrymandering, the prospects for codifying permanent reforms aren’t good.
This is how mixed government can work: Vermont’s Republican governor, Phil Scott, signed a bill expanding mail-in voting that passed the D-dominated legislature with overwhelming bipartisan support.
As Maine goes, so ought to go Pennsylvania: A bill opening Maine’s heretofore closed primary system to independent voters passed both houses of the state legislature comfortably.
Ban gifts: Demonstrators returned to the state Capitol yesterday to press lawmakers to pass legislation banning them from taking gifts from lobbyists and others aiming to influence them, the Associated Press reports.
Monday Morning Quarterback (on Friday): In her weekly column, MMQB, Lauren Vidas explores challenges Philadelphia leaders face in managing modest growth after a half century of managing decline.
Let's see an agenda: The PA Senate voted 49-0 to change that law, requiring government agencies in the state (there are 4831 of them, according to PennLive) to post meeting agendas in advance. The bipartisan bill will now go to the House for consideration.
Get Involved
Support broader language access for voters

A voter's limited English proficiency should not restrict their right to vote. Currently, election materials in Philadelphia are available only in English and Spanish but 47,000+ voters speak primarily Chinese, Vietnamese, Arabic, French or Korean. Citizens for Language Access asks you to tell Council to make it available in these languages as well. Sign the petition… In English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Arabic, French and Korean.
Business leaders for fair districts

Business support is vital in communicating to PA lawmakers the need for redistricting reform. Fair Districts PA is asking business leaders to sign this petition.
America Talks: A Weekend of Connection in the Midst of Deep Division
June 12 and 13, 2021, 1-2:30PM ET

America Talks facilitates one-on-one conversations across the political divide. Join a brief livestream kickoff at 1PM, then have an hour-long, one-on-one conversation on video with a fellow American who answered some of the sign-up questions differently. Register.
Spotlight PA Redistricting Conversation with State Sen. Dave Argall
Fri., June 18, 1 pm

Pennsylvania is gearing up for a big fight over congressional redistricting amid census delays, the loss of a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, and a tense climate after the last map was overturned by the state Supreme Court. Join Spotlight PA for reporter Marie Albies’ live interview with PA Sen. Dave Argall (R-Berks/Schuylkill), the chair of the Senate’s State Government, who’ll play an important role in this year’s Congressional redistricting. Register.
Civic Unity: What You Can Do
Tues., June 29, 6-7 pm

Join the Carpenters’ Company of Philadelphia for a virtual panel discussion exploring how ordinary citizens can foster civic unity in our politics and our communities. Moderated by Morgan Robinson, the president of Young Involved Philadelphia. Our panelists are Elizabeth Clay Roy, president and CEO of the national civic-engagement organization Generation Citizen; C70 chief program officer and League of Women Voters of Philadelphia president Lauren Cristella; and Jarrett Smith, YIP's programming co-chair. They’ll focus on steps ordinary people can take to change the political discourse and improve their communities. Register.
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!