Stop Pay-to-Play? Not so FastI have a feeling this won’t be my most popular post on Young Philly Politics. But, in the spirt of open debate, I'm going to give it a shot.
The Philly blogosphere has been buzzing about an online petition supporting Councilman Michael Nutter’s package of ethics reform bills. His bills require full disclosure by city agencies granting no-bid contracts and also place limits on campaign contributions.
Given the prevalent corruption at all level of Philadelphia city government, this legislation seems like common sense. Of course, Nutter’s package fell one vote short of passage. Many people are understandably upset with council’s inaction.
However, I still can’t get too fired up about pay-to-play legislation. Nepotism, corruption and patronage are a part of politics. In fact, organizing politically is one of the only ways traditionally marginalized communities have been able to access jobs, education, city services and other benefits of social policy.
Without a doubt, the Street Administration has been corrupt. But have it been any more or less corrupt than Rendell, Goode, or Rizzo? I don’t particularly think so. I know some consider it a sin to criticize Saint Ed, but does anyone doubt he has done some major favors for big donors? A prime example is the massive tax breaks given to Comcast Corporation to build a new headquarters. If that’s not corporate welfare, then the term has no meaning.
Many people believe corruption is why Philadelphia fails to attract new businesses and residents. While this is part of the story, I don’t believe passing this legislation will really do much to create good jobs, improve city services, or make neighborhood’s safer. And these three things are the true foundation on which a revitalized city will be built.
Anti-corruption legislation, while commendable, is simply a reaction to an age-old problem and won’t do very much by itself. People with large amounts of money will always figure out how to influence the political process. There will always be corruption. However, I believe it is possible that the seeds of a new movement can be found within the efforts to reform Philadelphia politics. To save our city, it cannot just be a reactionary movement. It must be an effort with bold vision, offering new solutions to familiar problems. I want to build a city where economic and social justice is the cornerstone of social policy. Where City Council is a laboratory for new ideas and innovative programs. Where social services are fully funded and all jobs pay a living wage.
I wonder if pay-to-play legislation moves us down that path? I’m not sure our energies couldn’t be better spent in other places.