Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Philly Residency Part of Larger Problem

In May of 2006, an ordinance was introduced in the city council of Philadelphia addressing modifications to the city's residency requirement. For decades the policy in Philadelphia was that in order to be employed by the city you needed to live in the city for a year prior to employment. What council proposed was that city employment opportunities be opened to anyone living outside, but that any such person who accepted a position had to move into town within six months. Many of the comments in the summary of the ordinance either directly state or imply some of the reasons that such a measure was believed to be needed. Among them that Philly had lost half a million residents since 1950, and that the current residency requirement had 'helped foster stable neighborhoods and economic opportunities for its residents...' The summary also stated that a new approach would 'encourage people to move into the city...' This is such pie-in-the-sky, ridiculous thinking that it almost defies belief and makes one wonder if the authors and sponsors of the bill actually believe it. There is absolutely no correlation between the city residency requirement and the loss of a half million citizens since 1950. The current residency requirement has not fostered 'stable neighborhoods' in any way. All you need to have done is lived in the city for the past few decades to know that there are very few 'stable neighborhoods'. Talk to the former residents, and many still there, from places like Kensington and Southwest Philly and Oxford Circle about changes in their neighorhoods over those decades. The residency requirement has in no way helped foster 'economic opportunities' for Philadelphians. How exactly? In what way? Constant poor choices by Philadelphia's leadership over the past quarter century or so is the consistent theme in the city's loss of residents. Businesses have not trickled out, they have poured out of the city, and they have taken tens of thousands of jobs with them. To in any way say that anything in Philadelphia is as good as it was or better than just a few decades ago is a farce. Philly's slip from consistently 4th in American population lists down to its current level of 6th and still sliding has specific reasons. The ultra-liberal political policies with no reasonable opposition are one. Over-taxation of businesses and residents is another, which springs from the first reason. Outrageous union demands and procedures, and political cow-towing to those is still another. An unwillingness to overhaul Philadelphia's anitquaited City Charter is yet another. That's all nice theory from a social and political conservative about what ails the city. It will remain theory only because there is no chance of a change in Philly. The Democratic Party and its liberal policies are totally entrenched in the power structure within the city limits. What is the tie to the residency rules? Those liberal Dem power brokers have seen their tax base shrink significantly. They can ill afford to allow it to shrink much further, and that is exactly what would happen if there is any change to the residency requirement. My prediction is that if the city did away with a residency requirement then of the 24,500 or so employees now working for the city at least 10% would be gone within a year, 25% within five years, and as many as half within a decade. City leadership knows this, which is why they will never allow a change like this to occur. They cannot allow the tax base to shrink further. City employees are in effect trapped within the confines of the city as long as they want to maintain their job. Another phenomenon now occurs with greater frequency. Employees are bending and in some cases outright breaking the rules on residency, and their fellow employees are 'diming them out' when they find out about it. There is a boss with the Aviation section who has been in the news recently relating to reports in the local TV news that he was seen staying at a home in South Jersey. He claimed that the home was owned by his wife who is sick and was recently more in need of his constant presence for care during an illness. This man had only married the wife a year and a half ago, and planned on retiring this coming summer. It all sounds logical, but logic played no part as the TV news crew followed him and 'exposed' him as a residency fraud. Of course the key point here is that the news had to be tipped off by someone. There was someone working with this man who resented him or his actions so badly that they called the press. That is a dangerous habit, for few of us know exactly what is going on within another person's life situations. Without a residency requirement, none of this would matter. The funny thing is that as Philadelphia has lost residents, it has not significantly lost employees to match. The size of Philadelphia government is almost as big personnel-wise, and much larger financially, than it was back in 1961 when I was born. Back then Philly's population was over the 2 million mark, it is now down to under a million and a half. Back then there were about 27,500 employees. Today there are about 24,500. Philadelphia needs to have its government size trimmed badly both in employee size and financial outlay, to reform its tax procedures across the board, to make significant charter changes to effect more favorable vendor union relations. It needs to begin to operate like the local government it is supposed to be rather than as a 'Big Momma' taking care of all our needs. The residency requirement is one place to start. Eliminate it and stand on your own two feet as a city rather than hold folks hostage. If you make your city attractive enough, people will want to live here rather than having to be forced to live here. Therein lies the challenge in the 21st century to future Philly leaders: make the City of Brotherly Love a place that people want to live in, that business wants to operate in, and where no one needs to be forced to live. I don't see much hope of it, but as long as I live and pay taxes here, I can dream.

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