City Council is on summer break but has left much of its legislative agenda undone.
Bills and resolutions remain parked in committees with no indication of when — or if — they will get hearings and progress to a vote. They range from modifying the 10-year tax abatement to tweaking Mayor Jim Kenney’s sweetened beverage tax.
City Council will not meet again until Sept. 12 — just weeks before the general election. And the end of the year will mark the conclusion of this City Council’s four-year term. At that time, any unmoved legislation will die.
While legislation is typically introduced with little obstruction in this 17-member City Council, getting a bill before a public hearing is another matter.
Council President Darrell Clarke and each of the heads of the 25 committees hold all the power: The main sponsor of a piece of legislation must secure the approval of the relevant committee leader for a hearing, according to the Rules of City Council.
Patricia Gillett, a spokeswoman for Clarke, said in an email that the council president was focused on following up on legislation regarding gun control, anti-poverty measures, and improving and preserving affordable housing that was proposed before the break.
But she hinted that changes could be in store for the city’s 10-year tax abatement.
“The Council President’s Office anticipates that abatement reform will be on the fall agenda in some form,” she said.
A group of stakeholders that includes the Kenney Administration will continue to work over the summer to build a consensus over the proposed legislation, Gillett said.
Here are some of the top pieces legislation that are awaiting action:
A handful of City Council members have pitched proposals to modify the 10-year property tax abatement, all of which have gone nowhere so far.
District 8 Councilwoman Cindy Bass proposed the most sweeping legislation in September, which would eliminate the controversial tax break altogether.
Layla Jones, a spokeswoman for Bass, said in an email that the councilwoman has met with stakeholders and plans to “move forward on this legislation.”
“Any other policy offered is a continuation of low-income families without means losing their properties, while those who have an ability to pay are excused from one of their most important duties as citizens,” Jones said.
At-large Councilwoman Helen Gym proposed a pair of bills that would modify the program.
One of Gym’s bills would chip away at the amount of exempted real estate taxes every year over the life of the 10-year abatement. So in the first year of the abatement, a qualifying homeowner would receive 100% of the abatement, followed by a reduction of 10% of the assessable amount of the improvement each year until the abatement is phased out.
The companion bill would set the amount of the additional assessment exempted from real estate taxes for residential units at the Federal Housing Administration mortgage limit for a one-family dwelling in the city. The bill would not affect commercial developments.
At-large Councilman Allen Domb proposed a similar bill to Gym’s in February, which would reduce the size of the assessable amount of the improvement costs by 25% increments over its last three years, effectively reducing the subsidy by 15%.
The Committee of Finance has yet to schedule hearings for any of the bills.
Gym and Domb did not return calls seeking comment on Friday.
The tax abatement has weathered criticism from some city council members and affordable housing advocates, who contend the policy promotes gentrification and the displacement of long-term residents.
In place for two decades, the citywide abatement program exempts property owners from paying 100% of city and school taxes for a decade on the added value from new construction or rehabilitation of residential and commercial properties.
City Council pitched a suite of legislation in March — just weeks before the primary election — aimed at driving down the city’s 26% poverty rate.
City Council lowered Philadelphia’s wage and net profits taxes as part of the budget negotiation in June.
But it has moved little on most of the rest of the legislation.
Left undone were more sweeping proposals that would mandate developers who purchase city-owned land set aside a portion for affordable housing units (known as inclusionary zoning); provide tax credits for landlords who rent to low-income tenants; establish “fair chance housing” that would prohibit landlords inquiring about the criminal history of rental housing applicants in most cases; and create a low-income defense fund for low-income tenants fighting eviction.
The legislation remains unassigned to a City Council committee with no hearings scheduled.
In February, Domb introduced a resolution to set term limits City Council members to three four-year terms.
Establishing term limits requires a City Charter change decided on by voters. But first, two-thirds of City Council (12 members) must vote to approve it.
The resolution has yet to receive a scheduled hearing in the Committee on Law and Government.
While some City Council members have hammered Kenney’s levy on sweetened beverages, the 1.5-cent-per-ounce tax persists unscathed.
In December, City Council passed Domb’s resolution to hold hearings on the tax. Since then, the Committee on Finance has not held any hearings.
In March, District 7 Councilwoman María Quiñones-Sánchez introduced a bill that would gradually phase out the soda tax, and a resolution to study the economic impact of the tax and hold hearings on the study. The Committee on Finance has yet to schedule a hearing for the bill.
Quiñones-Sánchez did not return a call seeking comment on Friday.
The levy pays for pre-kindergarten, Community Schools and the $500 million plan to repair recreation centers, parks and public spaces (commonly known as Rebuild).
A bill that would ensure most rental units are lead-free has yet to get a final vote.
At-large Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown did not allow the bill to get a final vote during the final session of City Council in June. The legislation would bolster lead-safety protections for most tenants by mandating all rental units built before 1978 be certified as free of lead (with the exception of those for college students).
In June, Reynolds Brown said she held the legislation due to a “wrinkle,” but expected to put the bill to a final vote before the end of the year.
The bill was introduced in October as part of a series of legislation to expand lead-safety protections.
The current city law requires landlords renting properties built before 1978 — when the consumer use of lead paint was banned — certify units are lead-free only if they will be occupied by families with children 6 years old or younger.
Statue for civil rights trailblazer
Should City Council endorse the construction of a statue for African-American lawyer and civil rights trailblazer Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander?
It has never gone to a vote.
In June 2018, District Councilwoman 9 Cherelle Parker proposed a non-binding resolution to erect the statue for Alexander, but has not allowed the resolution to go to a vote. Parker did not return a call seeking comment on Friday.
Alexander led a life of firsts: She was the first national president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.; first African-American woman in the U.S. to earn a doctorate in economics from the University of Pennsylvania and gain admission to the Pennsylvania Bar; and the city’s first Black assistant city solicitor.