November 2012 Ballot Questions

Each election, the Committee of Seventy analyzes all proposed amendment to the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter and provides explanations to the voters on its website. Since Philadelphians usually get very little information on ballot questions, Seventy believes this is a valuable public service.

Seventy is a non-partisan organization that does not endorse candidates for elective office. However, in addition to providing explanations, we do offer non-partisan recommendations on some ballot questions. Please see the bottom of this page to learn about how Seventy arrives at its recommendations.

Four questions will appear on Philadelphia’s November 6, 2012 ballot. The following chart provides the actual language of the ballot questions (in the order in which they will appear on the ballot), the “Plain English Statements” prepared for each ballot question by the city’s Law Department and, if appropriate, Seventy’s non-partisan recommendations.



BALLOT QUESTION    
PLAIN ENGLISH STATEMENT
THE COMMITTEE OF SEVENTY’S NON-PARTISAN RECOMMENDATION
1
Shall The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to allow for the establishment of an independent rate-making body for fixing and regulating water and sewer rates and charges and to prescribe open and transparent processes and procedures for fixing and regulating said rates and charges?
This amendment to the Home Rule Charter would permit City Council to create an independent rate-making body to set water and sewer rates, and to regulate how those rates are imposed.  Currently, the Philadelphia Water Department has the final responsibility for setting and regulating rates and charges for water and sewer services.

Council would also be able to establish procedures to be followed by the new body in setting rates and charges.  These procedures would have to be open and transparent.
The Committee of Seventy takes no position on this ballot question.

Voters who want to learn more about this proposal should read the testimony offered at City Council’s Committee on Law and Government’s public hearing on April 19, 2012, which is available here.

2
Shall The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to authorize the creation by ordinance of requirements for additional information to be s submitted with the annual operating budget, annual capital budget, and capital program, including, but not limited to, information about the cost of performing specific functions, the effectiveness of such functions, and the costs versus benefits of proposed expenditures, and to require the Finance Director to provide such information?
The Home Rule Charter currently requires the Mayor to submit to Council, each year, a proposed annual operating budget, a proposed annual capital budget and a proposed capital program.  This amendment to the Home Rule Charter would authorize City Council to require the Director of Finance to submit to Council information relating to the Mayor’s budget proposals.  Such information could include information about the costs and benefits of specific functions and expenditures.

The Committee of Seventy recommends a “yes” vote because inherent in its mission to fight for government that works better is support for more meaningful information and greater transparency surrounding the way city government spends taxpayer dollars.

At Council’s Committee on Law and Government’s June 18, 2012 public hearing, which is available here, the city’s Budget Director Rebecca Rhynhart testified that the Nutter administration supports the principle behind the proposed Charter amendment, i.e., using performance measurements and cost/benefit analyses to inform budget decisions. However, Ms. Rhynhart testified that the administration could not support the proposal at this time because the city lacks the required technology to provide this information for all departments by Fiscal Year 2014 (which begins on July 1, 2013). She added that the city’s Chief Innovation Officer is exploring the purchase of a new IT system to “allow the City to fully move to this new way of budgeting.”

Pending the development of the necessary technology, the Committee of Seventy strongly urges the administration and City Council to work together in advance of next spring’s budget hearings on the Fiscal Year 2013-Fiscal Year 2014 budget to facilitate a greater flow of meaningful and publicly-available information that will enable Council to make more informed budget decisions.
3
Shall The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter – which allows for a preference in the civil service regulations for the children of Philadelphia firefighters or police officers who were killed or who died in the line of duty – be amended to further allow for a preference for the grandchildren of such firefighters or police officers?
This amendment to the Home Rule Charter would authorize City Council to provide a preference on civil service entrance examinations to the grandchildren of firefighters and police officers killed in the line of duty. 

The Committee of Seventy takes no position on this ballot question.  

Voters who want to learn more about this proposal should read the testimony offered at City Council’s Committee on Law and Government’s public hearing on June 18, 2012. (See link provided in the above section on Ballot Question #2.)

NOTE: This proposed Charter amendment is an extension of the Charter amendment passed by the voters in May 2006 to allow Council to grant “from time to time be required by statute or ordinance, of preference in entrance examinations to qualified persons who have been members of the armed forces of the United States, and to the children of Philadelphia firefighters or police officers who were killed or who died in the line of duty.”
4
Should the City of Philadelphia borrow ONE HUNDRED TWENTY THREE MILLION SIX HUNDRED SEVENTY THOUSAND DOLLARS ($123,670,000) to be spent for and toward capital purposes as follows: Transit; Streets and Sanitation; Municipal Buildings; Parks, Recreation and Museums; and Economic and Community Development?
This ballot question, if approved by the voters, would authorize the City to borrow $123,670,000 for capital purposes, thereby increasing the City’s indebtedness by $123,670,000.  Capital purposes means, generally, to make expenditures that will result in something of value with a useful life to the City of more than five years, for example, acquisitions of real estate, or construction of or improvements to buildings, property or streets.

The money to be borrowed would be used by the City for five identified purposes, namely, Transit; Streets and Sanitation; Municipal Buildings; Parks, Recreation and Museums; and Economic and Community Development, all in specific amounts identified in Bill No. 120562 (approved September 2012).  City Council would have authority, by ordinance, to change the intended allocation of these proceeds.
The Committee of Seventy takes no position on this ballot question.

Methodology for Making Non-Partisan Recommendations on Ballot Questions


The Home Rule Charter. The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter is the city’s permanent governing document. It outlines the structures and procedures of Philadelphia’s government, including the powers and duties of the Mayor, City Council and other elected officials. You can read the Charter by logging onto www.seventy.org/Files/Philadelphia_Home_Rule_Charter.pdf.

State law outlines two ways to amend the Charter:

1.    City Council may propose an amendment by a 2/3 vote of its 17 members. However, before the substantive change outlined in the amendment goes into effect, it must be approved by the voters. The amendment is submitted to the voters as a question that appears on a ballot during either the spring primary election or the fall general election. Approval requires a majority of the voters who answer the ballot question to vote “yes,” or
   
2.    A proposed amendment to the Charter can be submitted to City Council by a petition signed by at least 20,000 registered voters. City Council may, by majority vote, decide to submit the proposed amendment to the voters as a ballot question. Just like a ballot question that comes directly from Council, approval by a majority of the voters is required before the substantive change outlined in the amendment goes into effect.

The city’s first Charter was adopted in 1919. The last time it was reformed comprehensively was in 1951. However, many individual provisions within the Charter have been amended since 1951 and new provisions have been added. City Council routinely submits proposed Charter amendments to the voters on an Election Day ballot. If a ballot question is rejected, the same question cannot be resubmitted to the voters for at least five years.

The Committee of Seventy and Charter Amendments. Each election, the Committee of Seventy analyzes all proposed Charter amendments and provides detailed explanations to the voters on its website. Since Philadelphians usually get very little information on ballot questions, Seventy believes this is a valuable public service.

Seventy is a non-partisan organization that does not endorse candidates for elective office. However, in addition to providing explanations, we do offer non-partisan recommendations on some ballot questions. Here is the “two-screen test” we use to determine whether Seventy should take a position on individual ballot questions:

•    Does the ballot question fit within Seventy’s mission to “fight for clean and effective government, fair elections and a better informed citizenry in Philadelphia and the region?”
 
•    Is amending the Home Rule Charter either required under law to effect the change proposed or otherwise necessary/appropriate to achieve an effective remedial change, or can the same goal be accomplished by another mechanism, e.g., executive order, city ordinance or City Council resolution?

Voters are encouraged to read the ballot questions before going to the polls. This will allow you to be better informed and will also save you time reading them in the voting booth. 




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