How Philly Works Series: Your tool to engage the issues

HOW PHILLY WORKS is a series of short and easy-to-understand civic education pieces that explain serious city and regional issues in a way that prepares you to get involved. It's the successor to our former IN THE KNOW series.

The intention of our HOW PHILLY WORKS series is to present serious issues that have a genuine impact on citizens fairly and objectively. From time to time, our readers tell us we lean too far in one direction or another. We take those seriously, which is why we encourage feedback to Your comments help shape the way we approach future topics.

Countdown to the May 20 Primary - Register to Vote NOW! (March 24, 2014)

Big races are on the primary ballot. And, in Philadelphia, there’s also a Special Election to decide who will serve out the remainder of Bill Green’s At-Large City Council term. With the voter registration deadline four weeks out - April 21! - this HOW PHILLY WORKS explains what you should do NOW to get ready.

Three (Pretty Easy) Steps to Running as an Independent in the May 20 Special Election for an At-Large City Council Seat (March 11, 2014)

There’s a very short window of opportunity to run as an independent in the May 20 Special Election to fill out the rest of Bill Green’s At-Large Council term. This edition of HOW PHILLY WORKS tells independent candidates what they need to know. (Non-candidates can learn something too.)

Vacancies on City Council: What happens? (January 17, 2004)

City Councilman Bill Green may leave Council to the head the School Reform Commission. Soon, other members may resign so they can run for mayor. What happens when there's an empty seat on Council? Read this edition of HOW PHILLY WORKS to find out.

Philly Hustle: You Can't Make This S**t Up (December 20, 2013)

American Hustle opens in theaters today. It features an all-star cast (including Philly's Bradley Cooper...and Jennifer Lawrence!), but the story is only based on real events. This HOW PHILLY WORKS tells you what actually happened.

HOW PA WORKS: Your Checkbook and the 2014 Candidates for Governor (December 17, 2013)

The Pennsylvania gubernatorial race is heating up, and candidates will be asking for money. The issue is statewide. So Seventy is debuting this HOW PA WORKS to explain the rules - or rather, the lack of rules - when it comes to your checkbook and campaign war chests.

Where PA's Bigwigs Will Gather This Weekend (December 11, 2013)

Pennsylvania's most powerful people are discussing the state's future this weekend. In New York City. This HOW PHILLY WORKS tells you about the PA Society's lavish annual event.

The Land Bank Finally Lands (December 6, 2013)

City Council will vote next Thursday on whether to create the Philadelphia Land Bank. While it won't hold your money, the land it will handle - 40,000 vacant properties - mean real bucks for the city. Find out more in this edition of HOW PHILLY WORKS.

'Tis the season...Gifts and City Employees (November 20, 2013)

The Philadelphia Board of Ethics will hold a public hearing today on a proposed regulation that would allow city employees to accept cash up to $50 and non-cash gifts up to $200. This edition of HOW PHILLY WORKS explains why 50 bucks is a BIG deal.

The Role of City Council in Public Education (November 19, 2013)

With a City Council hearing tomorrow on school funding and the school district still mired in crisis, now is a good time ask “What is Council’s role with the Philly schools?” Our newest edition of HOW PHILLY WORKS discusses what Council can (and cannot) do for the school system.

The Real Skinny on the Voter ID Law for the November 5 election (October 30, 2013)

Is PA's Voter ID law ON or OFF for the November 5 election? Voters tell us recent TV ads are confusing them.  This edition of HOW PHILLY WORKS will outline the real facts on Voter ID.  

Who's in charge of the Philly Schools? (October 23, 2013)

With SRC Chairman Pedro Ramos' resignation on Monday and his fellow commissioner, Joseph Dworetzky, unlikely to serve beyond January 2014, two of the five commissioners will need to be replaced. This edition of HOW PHILLY WORKS asks the question: Who's in charge of the Philly schools?

What you need to know for the November 5 General Election (October 22, 2013)

The 2013 General Election is only two weeks away. Do you know what offices are being contested? Who are the candidates? Read this edition of HOW PHILLY WORKS to find out!

Charter Schools 101: A Primer on the Nuts and Bolts (October 15, 2013)

Charter Schools are bound to come up in any debate over public education - especially in Philly where more than a quarter of students attend them. Could you define what a charter schools is? Read this edition of HOW PHILLY WORKS to make sure you can!

The Growing Divide Over the Future of Public Education in Philly (October 3, 2013)

The Philadelphia School District's fiscal crisis has intensified the debate over the future of public education in the city. And recently, a series of ads has appeared targeting "wealthy donors" associated with one side of the ideological divide. What divide? Whose ads? Read this edition of HOW PHILLY WORKS to find out!

UPDATE: Click here to read the response from the Philadelphia School Partnership. (October 8, 2013)

Still time to file your assessment (October 1, 2013)

Think your property assessment is too high or simply wrong? You still have time to file a formal appeal, but time is running out - the deadline is October 7! This edition of HOW PHILLY WORKS gives you an update on the city's review process and what to do if you need to appeal your property assessment.

Want a seat in the mayor's box? (SEPTEMBER 27, 2013)

You, the taxpayers, actually have some great box seats to Philly sporting and entertainment events. Never been? Our newest edition of HOW PHILLY WORKS covers the "Mayor's Box" and how thousands of tickets are doled out - plus a proposal by one Councilman to sell them to support the schools.

Resign to Run and the 2015 Mayor's Race (September 3, 2013)

Everyone's talking about Philly's next mayor. Three members of City Council, including President Darrell Clarke, and the City Controller are reportedly eyeing the 2015 race. But a boulder stands in their way: a city rule that requires them to resign before running. An effort to remove the boulder is about to begin. Read what it could mean to 2015 and future elections in this edition of HOW PHILLY WORKS.


Journalists need access to public records in doing their job. Citizens need access to hold their government accountable. The balancing act in providing transparency isn’t easy, and this edition of HOW PHILLY WORKS explains the process for exercising your “Right to Know.”

Funding crisis in the philadelphia public schools (July 25, 2013)

If you think Philadelphia’s education crisis is under control because it disappeared from the headlines, or if you happened to believe our elected leaders weeks ago when they suggested that a fiscal solution was in hand, read this edition of HOW PHILLY WORKS to understand where this frightening problem really stands.

how philly could work: How City Hall Can Do a Better Job Spending Your Money (July 16, 2013)

You pay for your government. And deserve to know how your money is being spent. This how philly COULD work -- a new, exciting series Seventy launches today -- offers four common-sense recommendations for improving the city's budget process. Let us know what you think!

The Ins and OUts of Voting in NJ (May 31, 2013)

With the current heat wave you may be tempted to laze away the weekend at the Jersey Shore. But, if you vote in the Garden State, take time to read this edition of HOW JERSEY WORKS to find out everything you need to know before next Tuesday's (June 4) New Jersey primary election.

Cashing in on Local Judicial Elections (April 22, 2013)

Lots of candidates are running in local judicial races in the May 21 primary. How will you decide who to vote for? Some candidates are betting that you’ll rely on your political party to help you choose – and have put down a lot of cash to get the party’s support. Other candidates are counting on top ballot position or a recognizable name. This edition of HOW PHILLY WORKS explains the ins and outs of local judicial elections and why the party establishment is happy to keep elections just the way they are.

Who is the Controller? (April 11, 2013)

The key fiscal watchdog is Philadelphia’s City Controller. And people who want to lead that office for the next four years are on the 2013 ballot. Today’s HOW PHILLY WORKS talks about what the office does and who wants the job.

Will Council Order Sick Leave? (April 9, 2013)

Will paid sick leave hurt or harm Philly’s economy? Should this matter more than the health of employees? Today’s HOW PHILLY WORKS dissects this sensitive issue.

The Property Tax Battle Begins (March 26, 2013)

At stake is the size of your real estate tax bill – or even your rent -- if you live in Philly.  Read this edition of HOW PHILLY WORKS if you want to know how today’s battle between the Nutter administration and some members of City Council played out – and how you might be able to reduce the size of that bill.

COming Soon? Click Here to Register To Vote (March 19, 2013)

What if registering to vote was one click away? Read this edition of HOW PHILLY WORKS to learn about the proposed legislation that could bring Pennsylvania into the 21st century.

The Skinny on Local Judicial Races (March 8, 2013)

Read this edition of HOW PHILLY WORKS to find how you can learn more about the local judicial candidates on the May 21 primary ballot.

getting your voice heard during the city's budget debates (March 6, 2013)

It’s that time of year to hash out Philadelphia’s Annual Budget.  Read this edition of HOW PHILLY WORKS to learn how you can join the discussion.

Dis(Order) in the courts: Is ending Judicial elections the answer? (February 28, 2013)

Read this edition of HOW PHILLY WORKS to see what the conviction of a Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice means for judicial elections. 

Cut the Long Lines: Early Voting in Pennsylvania (February 13, 2013)

Some legislators think early voting is a necessary election reform.  Read this edition of HOW PHILLY WORKS to learn more about where this issue stands. 

City Council and School Closings (February 12, 2013)

We are less than one month away from the SRC's verdict on closing on 37 Philadelphia public schools, and City Council is voicing its opposition to the plan.  But what role does City Council play in school closings? Read this edition of HOW PHILLY WORKS to find out. 

Philly's Next Casino (February 5, 2013)

It’s been two years since the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board yanked the license from the Foxwoods casino project.  Now Philadelphia is getting another chance at a second casino.  The process gets started this Thursday when City Council holds a hearing on a Bob Brady-backed casino plan. Regardless of whether the idea of a second casino gets you giddy or angry, you’ll want to follow the action in this edition of HOW PHILLY WORKS.

The gun-control debate: City vs. state (January 23, 2013)

Gun control vs. gun rights. It's back in the news, all over the blogosphere and soon to be in Congress. Locally, the tension on guns between the city and state governments doesn't seem to be easing.  For an overview of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania gun laws, and a survey of the gun landscape nationally, read this edition of HOW PHILLY WORKS

Voter ID Law: dead or alive (December 28, 2012)

Much of the political debate in Pennsylvania this year concerned the controversial law requiring citizens to show photo identification before voting. A judge punted the issue into 2013. To understand what happens next and why it matters, read this edition of HOW PHILLY WORKS

Super PACs are coming to town (December 27, 2012)

You will see a dramatic change in Philadelphia’s political landscape starting to materialize in 2013. That is when the next races for Philadelphia’s key elected offices will begin in earnest. And it is when we are likely to see the first traces of powerful new political fundraising machines called Super PACs.  This edition of HOW PHILLY WORKS will explain what a political action committee (PAC) is, how they operate and what affect they may have on future elections. 

Looking Ahead to 2013: Running for a seat on an election board (December 26, 2012)

Have you ever fantasized about running for an elected position?  Have you ever wondered how you would be able to get your name on the ballot?  This edition of HOW PHILLY WORKS fills you in on the process to become an elected Election Board member.  The process is not that hard and this is the perfect time to begin to think about your run.

Giving the GOP a seat at the (polling place) table (December 20, 2012)

Republican Minority Inspectors were turned away from polls in 100 voting divisions where they were legally entitled to work at the November 6 election, a by-product of political life in a one-party town that raises questions about fairness and even potential voting irregularities. With Inspectors up for elections in 2013, this edition of HOW PHILLY WORKS fills you in on the controversy and what can be done about it.

Can the GOP Take PA in 2016? (December 17, 2012)

Electoral Colleges from all fifty states and the District of Columbia are meeting today to officially cast their votes for President and Vice President of the United States. We already know that all of Pennsylvania’s twenty electoral votes will be going to President Obama, but one state Senator is trying (again) to make sure that Pennsylvania Republicans don’t get shut out of future Electoral College votes. Find out about it in this edition of HOW PHILLY WORKS.

City Commissioners: Under The microscope(s) (December 13, 2012)

Multiple efforts to improve elections in Philadelphia, with a special focus on correcting voting problems on November 6, are happening. The mayor is doing a fact-finding. The City Controller is conducting an audit.  This edition of HOW PHILLY WORKS will tell you about the steps that are being taken to hold the City Commissioners accountable.

Did Your Provisional Ballot Count? (December 5, 2012)

A report submitted to the city’s three City Commissioners disclosed the results of the unprecedented 27,355 paper (or “provisional”) ballots cast by city voters on November 6: 19,670 were counted; 7,685 were thrown out. This edition of HOW PHILLY WORKS fills you in on what was in today’s report and what is still unknown. Count on Seventy to keep you in the loop. 

Public Officials and Non-Profits (November 20, 2012)

A news story that might have grabbed your attention recently detailed a probe of a prominent city non-profit with close ties to influential public officials. This HOW PHILLY WORKS talks about the benefits and pitfalls of relationships between public officials and non-profits and how the public can learn more about them.

Understanding Turnout (November 13, 2012)

President Obama outpolled Gov. Mitt Romney in Philadelphia by wide margins at the Nov. 6 General Election to help Democrats carry the state of Pennsylvania. But some say Philadelphia’s vote-margins were too wide. This edition of HOW PHILLY WORKS is the first in a series that looks at issues that were front and center on Nov. 6.

No Photo ID...For Now: Practical Advice for Voting on November 6 (November 2, 2012)

The non-partisan Committee of Seventy has been talking about Pennsylvania’s voter ID law all year long. So, on the eve of the election, it’s only fitting that we are still talking about it. Today we want to end any lingering confusion about whether or not voters must show a photo ID at the polls on November 6.

Voter ID Goes on TrIAl (July 24, 2012)

Will Pennsylvania’s voter ID law stay or go? At 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, July 25 at 10:00 a.m., Commonwealth Court judge Robin Simpson will begin hearing arguments to stop the voter ID law before the November 6 presidential election. This highly controversial law is being talked about as key to whether Obama or Romney wins Pennsylvania. This edition of the Committee of Seventy’s HOW PHILLY WORKS tells you what the case is all about and who will be making the critical court decisions.

Dr. Hite Comes to Philly (July 3, 2012)

It’s been a rocky year for the School District of Philadelphia. With wounds still raw from Arlene Ackerman’s controversial exit in 2011, and the dire financial state of the school system, the big question has been who will take the superintendent’s reins from here? This HOW PHILLY WORKS gets you the latest on the Philly schools, its new chief and what his (so far) unresolved contract might say

The Philadelphia Idiot’s Guide to Property Taxes and the City Schools II (June 15, 2012)

Passions are still running high and the final outcome could change. But the intense debate that has dominated the 2012 budget process over whether or not to implement a new property assessment system, and to give $94 million to the city’s public schools, appears to be drawing to a close. This HOW PHILLY WORKS looks ahead to what Council’s apparent decision could mean for the future of the public schools and the city’s real estate market.

The Philadelphia Idiot’s Guide to Property Taxes and the City Schools (June 5, 2012)

The hot button issue of in this year's annual budget debate takes center stage shortly so Seventy is using HOW PHILLY WORKS to explain how Philadelphia's elected officials are preparing for this afternoon's mega-hearing.

An Answer to IncreaseD City Revenue? (May 6, 2012)

Cities everywhere are asking tax-exempt non-profits to make voluntary payments to bring in more revenue through programs known as PILOTs (payments-in-lieu-of-taxes). This HOW PHILLY WORKS takes a close look at the pros and cons of expanding Philadelphia's small PILOT program.

(Almost) Everything you want to know about voting in philadelphia's april 24 primary: Your Rights as a voter (April 23, 2012)

Tuesday, April 24 is Election Day. And who wins really matters. There are a lot of candidates running – too many to list here, in fact – but this HOW PHILLY WORKS is about you, the voter. And the things you need to know in order to have the best possible voting experience on Tuesday.

(Almost) Everything You Want to Know about Voting in Philadelphia’s April 24 Primary: The Primary Races  (April 23, 2012)

Get all the latest news on the hot races in Philadelphia before you go to vote at the April 24 Primary. Call the Committee of Seventy at 1-866-OUR-VOTE if you have questions or encounter problems at the polls.

What you need to know about PA's New Voter ID Law (Revised April 20, 2012)

Share the news with every Pennsylvania voter you know that a new law requires everyone to show photo ID each and every time they go to a polling place to vote. This HOW PHILLY WORKS tells you what type of ID you need and where to go if you don't have one.

City Council and the Labor Contracts (March 22, 2012)

The silence is over in negotiations between the city of Philadelphia and two municipal unions that have operated without contracts since 2009. City Council put pressure on Mayor Nutter today to stop demanding concessions from workers and settle the contracts, fast. Read Seventy’s HOW PHILLY WORKS for the story behind this unfolding saga.

Is Voter ID Necessary? (Updated march 14, 2012)

Get the story on the year-long debate that led up the passage of Pennsylvania's voter ID law on March 14, 2012. The new law requires voters to show a photo ID every time they go to the polls. Seventy’s Q&A explains how the proposed law came about and how it is expected to work.

No new taxes. Maybe (March 7, 2012)

Mayor Nutter will deliver his Annual Budget Address to City Council on Thursday, March 8 and there is a major issue at stake - your property taxes. This HOW PHILLY WORKS explains why you may end up paying more even if the city's tax rate stays the same.

City elected officials: Who gave them money and how they spenT it (February 1, 2012)

Ever see a campaign finance report? If not, you’re in luck.  A fresh batch just poured in yesterday from the city’s elected officials. And it makes for a great read – if you know what you’re reading. This HOW PHILLY WORKS explains what these reports can tell you - and what they don’t - about who has the ear of your elected leaders in government.

How you can participate in Council's business part i | Part ii (January 26, 2012)

If you want City Council to hear what you have to say, let this HOW PHILLY WORKS help you understand their internal code: The  Rulebook. Part II gets into a new wrinkle announced at Council's first meeting of the 2012 - 2015 term, the three-minute limit on public comments will be strictly enforced. Be sure to check back for more on how you can interact with Council in 2012.

A Closer look at Councilmanic Prerogative (January 23, 2012)

Now the readers are asking us...What is Councilmanic Prerogative?  Where does it come from?  What does the future hold?  Read this HOW PHILLY WORKS for a more in-depth look at this important city issue.

What is Councilmanic Prerogative? (January 4, 2012)

Philadelphia just got a new zoning code, but there’s an unwritten development rule that hasn’t been changed.  It’s called Councilmanic Prerogative, and it makes its presence felt all across the city.  Read this HOW PHILLY WORKS to learn what it is and what it does.

Welcome to your new zoning code (December 16, 2011)

At its final meeting of 2011, Philadelphia City Council passed the city’s first new zoning code in nearly fifty years. Like many tasks in this town, overhauling the code was not easy, requiring four years of planning and $2 million in spending. Did we mention the work is not quite done yet? This IN THE KNOW from the Committee of Seventy explains what changes are in store.

The biggest city election not on yesterday's ballot (November 9, 2011)

The Philadelphia polls closed at 8:00 p.m. last night, but a fiercely contested City Council election is still undecided. We’re talking about the race for the next President of Philadelphia City Council, who will be chosen by the 17 people who were elected on November 8th after they are sworn into office in January 2011. Read Seventy's latest IN THE KNOW to learn who wants the job and why it matters.

(Almost) Everything you want to know about voting in Philadelphia's November 8 General Election (November 3, 2011)

Tuesday, November 8 is general election day in Philadelphia, and who wins really matters. There are a lot of candidates running – too many to list here, in fact – but this IN THE KNOW is about you, the voter. And the things you need to know in order to have the best possible voting experience on November 8.

PA & The Electoral College (October 21, 2011)

If some legislators in Harrisburg have their way, there will be major changes to how Pennsylvania casts its Electoral College votes for President of the United States that could swing the outcome of the 2012 Election. As the debate plays out, Seventy uses its IN THE KNOW series to help you - and us - better understand the pros and cons of changing the state’s Electoral College process. You can expect more installments as this all unfolds.

Who's in charge of the Philly Schools? (August 22, 2011)

With a $905,000 buyout – almost half from private anonymous donors – the School Reform Commission and Superintendent Arlene Ackerman have parted ways. Who decides what happens next? The Committee of Seventy uses this IN THE KNOW to help you better understand who is making decisions about the city's schools (it’s more complicated than you might think) and why some are questioning whether the state should still control the schools.

Drawing Council's District Lines (June 22, 2011)

It’s City Council’s job to draw the boundaries of its 10 districts. Council members have only six months after the census population figures are released to come up with a redistricting plan – or they stop getting paid. (This really happened in 1991 and 2001.) On June 23 City Council will vote on a resolution to get the redistricting ball rolling. This IN THE KNOW explains the traditionally behind-closed-doors and complex redistricting process in simple terms.

What's Next for DROP?
(May 18, 2011)

DROP caused five City Council members to retire this year and ruined Councilman At-Large Frank Rizzo’s bid for a fifth term. When the official votes are counted, DROP could also end Marge Tartaglione’s 25 years as a City Commissioner. Can we finally stop talking about Drop? Not quite, here is why: Some elected officials are still eligible for DROP, DROP could decide the next Council President, and DROP could stick around for non-elected city workers. Read this IN THE KNOW to see what this means.

(Almost) Everything you want to know about voting in Philadelphia's May 17 Primary (May 16, 2011)

Tomorrow (May 17) is Election Day in Philadelphia, and who wins really matters. Despite all the TV attention and hoopla around presidential and congressional races, the people who hold local offices make more decisions that affect your everyday life, from the taxes you pay to the city services you get to the laws you live by. It’s up to you to learn as much as you can about the candidates before you head to the polls. Our IN THE KNOW is here to help.

Why Council Elections Matter (Jan. 18, 2011)

With candidates coming out in large numbers in the run-up to the key primary election, on May 17, the Committee of Seventy looks at why these elections make a difference and what it takes to win a Council seat. And by "what it takes," we do in part mean money - sometimes lots of it.

'Tis the Season - Gifts and Public Officials (Dec. 21, 2010)

It's the gift-giving time of the year and you may be tempted to send a little token to your favorite city employee. But wait - there are  rules that public employees have to follow in accepting gifts (and sometimes there are rules that apply to the people giving the gifts too). The Committee of Seventy's IN THE KNOW outlines the rules to keep you and your public employee friends out of trouble.

Business privilege Tax (Nov. 29, 2010)

Taxing businesses is a complicated issue, but it matters to everyone in Philadelphia. City Council is eying a plan to change the way the "Business Privilege Tax" is structured, a debate that may have long-term implications for the economic health of the city - and implications for candidates in next year's election for mayor and City Council. To help understand what's going on, the Committee of Seventy's IN THE KNOW looks at what the Business Privilege Tax is and explains the clashing ideas for reforming it.

Political Ads and Campaign Spending (Oct. 27, 2010)

Competitive elections mean lots of TV ads, but this year seems to be crazier than most. Why? A Supreme Court decision earlier this year freed corporations and unions to spend as much as they want on campaign-related ads. And they're taking full advantage of that freedom in Pennsylvania's nationally-watched congressional races. We'll have a closer look at what's behind this flood of ads.

WHAT NOW FOR DROp? (August 9, 2010)

City Council faces a tough choice after the release of a report showing that the controversial Deferred Retirement Option Plan for city workers has cost $258 million over 10 years. The Committee of Seventy looks at Council's sticky political situation, caught between the public that doesn't like the program and city workers who do, and explains how it will be particularly difficult for the six Council members who are themselves enrolled in DROP.

Bridges over troubled Water (August 2, 2010)

The agency that runs the bridges across the Delaware River has long had a reputation for being secretive and being a hotbed of patronage jobs and no-bid contracts. Now a series of unflattering stories in local media has officials on both side of the river asking questions about lavish salaries, expensive perks, and the peculiar way the DRPA does business. The Committee of Seventy explains the recent turmoil at the Delaware River Port Authority and what the agency is supposed to be doing.


With continuing questions about how and why the state Supreme Court's Chief Justice handled the project to replace Philadelphia's aging Family Court facilities, the Committee of Seventy tries to untangle the complex story so the public can understand what's at stake: The credibility of the Chief Justice and his court, the reputation of major city lawyers and law firms, the well-being of the thousands of people who use the Family Court every day, and the fate of $200 million in taxpayer money to build the new courthouse.


With just weeks left to work out its version of the city budget, City Council is getting serious about whether Philadelphians will have to pay more in taxes. On May 13 at noon, Council will hold a hearing on a plan to hike property taxes by as much as 9 percent. It is also considering imposing a new tax on some tobacco products.

Tax Hikes Top the Agenda (May 10, 2010)

With just weeks left to work out its version of the city budget, City Council is getting serious about whether Philadelphians will have to pay more in taxes. On May 13 at noon, Council will hold a hearing on a plan to hike property taxes by as much as 9 percent. It is also considering imposing a new tax on some tobacco products.

Government Can Get Creative (May 5, 2010)

Philadelphia has it pretty bad budget-wise this year. But if it is any consolation, we’re not alone. Just about every city, county, and state government is facing budget problems brought on by the bad economy. In fact, a few places have it far worse (including talk of bankruptcy in Los Angeles and our own capital city, Harrisburg). But one thing is clear – lots of places are doing things differently than Philadelphia, where city leaders seem intent this year on raising taxes while avoiding potentially painful service cuts.  We're taking a look at how other governments are handling the budget crisis and highlighting some cases where their approach is both creative and far-sighted, making changes that will have a positive effect for years to come.


City Council has just one month to hammer out its version of the $3.9 billion budget. The decisions that Council and the mayor will make in the days ahead will determine the kind of city we live and work in far into the future. The Committee of Seventy is starting a special series of our “IN THE KNOW” feature to help Philadelphians understand the issues, the politics, and the consequences of this year’s budget process, the third year in a row with the city facing a major budget deficit. We’ll look behind the seemingly dry facts and figures of the budget to help those that live and work in the city understand how and why their tax money is being spent.

Bye Bye, BRT (Ballot Question on abolishing the BRT) (March 29, 2010)

After months of Philadelphia Inquirer reports on decades of gross mismanagement and political deal-making at the Board of Revision of Taxes (BRT) – the independent agency responsible for setting the value of all properties in the city, which in turn dictates how much you pay in property taxes – Philadelphia voters will decide whether or not to abolish the agency altogether when they go to the polls on May 18, 2010. What is being proposed to replace it? That’s what the Committee of Seventy explains in this “IN THE KNOW.” This is the information you WON”T SEE when you read the 65-word ballot question on the May 18th ballot.

Labor Costs and the City Budget (March 1, 2010)

During these lean times, most of us are figuring out what to cut from the family budget and ways to put a little more in the piggy bank. Imagine making these choices when nearly 60% of what has to go out the door is still a question mark. That’s what Philadelphia is now facing. As of publication, contracts for three of the City's biggest unions on issues including employees’ wages and benefits – which make up almost 60% of the general operating budget – are still unresolved. This Q&A explores strong connection between labor costs and the budget.


On Tuesday, February 16, 2010 a big, but little understood, political decision will be made. It involves the Republican City Committee, a group whose choices aren’t often heard about in a town where Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 6-1. This In The Know is designed to provide background information on the local GOP.


On March 4, 2010, Mayor Michael Nutter will make his Annual Budget Address to the city. Between now and the July 1 start of Fiscal Year 2011, Mayor Nutter and City Council will have tough decisions to make. This In The Know is the first installment in a series that will highlight issues that will surface during the budget discussions.


At Philadelphia City Council’s first formal session of 2010 – January 28 – Philadelphia City Councilman W. Wilson Goode, Jr. introduced a Resolution to limit City Council members to three consecutive terms. Council members can currently run for reelection as many times as they want. Like other Philadelphians, we will be weighing the pros and cons. This In The Know provides some background information to get the debate moving.


On January 21, 2010, the United States Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision to allow corporations and unions unprecedented freedom to fund ads that directly support or oppose political candidates. This In The Know installment helps you understand the ruling and give you more background on what to expect from it.

Philadelphia's Long, Hot Summer (summer 2009)

In the depth of the Great Recession, Philadelphia faced a growing crisis - after having struggled to close a budget gap of more than $1 billion over the next five years, the continuing drop in tax revenue opened the possibility of yet another $1 billion-worth of deficits. The mayor and City Council had difficulty agreeing on budget cuts and new taxes. Meanwhile, the city continued to struggle with a growing problem with the underfunded pension system and the city's four labor unions kept working without a new contract, which was already a year overdue. The Committee of Seventy launched what would evolve into the "In the Know" series to explain the complex crisis.

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