REMARKS ON THE FLOOR OF
THE SENATE, JUNE 13, 2001, CONCERNING THE REPUBLICAN-LED STATE TAKEOVER
OF THE PHILADELPHIA PARKING AUTHORITY
One of the favorite sayings of this governor
is “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” He and his spin doctors use that
line all the time when they give interviews, as they are so fond of
doing, to talk about how openly they are running the government.
Sunlight is the best disinfectant. So it’s no wonder that they kept this
bill in the dark up to the very last minute. It needs disinfectant so
badly that you can already smell it all the way to the Ohio border.
Even after the Republicans brought this out of the closet less than 24
hours ago and railroaded it through the House, they still weren’t being
honest about it. As they sit here today prepared to railroad it through
the Senate, they still aren’t being open about what this bill does or
about the number of dollars it will provide.
They are trying to sell it as help for the Philadelphia School District,
when in fact it nothing more than a political patronage grab.
That power grab is made worse by the cynical ploy of using Philadelphia
school children for political cover.
There is no meaningful financial assistance for the Philadelphia School
District in this legislation. The numbers are phony and the intent of
the bill is phony.
According to our understanding, the money they claim they are diverting
from the parking authority to the schools, about 45 million dollars by
some calculations, is contractually obligated because of parking
authority bonds. The real excess revenue, which the parking authority
holds for operational purposes, is only about $3 million.
Whether it’s $45 million or $3 million, keep in mind that it doesn’t
really address the school district’s $200 million plus deficit. But it’s
probably $3 million.
The second possible scenario is this: Let’s say they somehow can figure
out legally how to get their hands on $45 million and transfer it to the
school district. That money is part of the city budget. Some of it is
dedicated to the PICA 5-year plan for city finances. So it has a
negative impact on the city’s financial solvency.
This is a hoax that doesn’t help the school district at all.
This comes at a time when the governor was proclaiming that he wanted to
be a partner with the city in addressing the quality of education in
Or did he just want to give that impression until the GOP convention had
Let’s quickly look at how we got to this sorry state of affairs.
For years, the Philadelphia School District has been pleading with
Republicans to meet their obligations to the children of the city, as
well as children in other poor school districts around the state. For
years the Philadelphia schools have cut back programs, tightened their
budgets, put up with leaking ceilings and outdated textbooks.
When the city finally said its financial
crisis was so bad that it might not be able to keep the schools open a
few years ago, the governor and his Republican colleagues in the
legislature made a big show of passing a school takeover law.
“We won’t let you lock the children of Philadelphia out of the
classroom” they thumped their chests and said. “We’ll come down from
Harrisburg and run the schools.”
But now that the schools have reached the desperation point, what answer
do the Republicans give us? Are they going to ride in on their white
horses and take over classrooms? No. They’re going to take over parking
If the Republicans had come up with a plan that would provide real,
meaningful assistance to Philadelphia schools, we might support it, even
if they didn’t consult with city leaders or other officials in a
But this bogus takeover plan would not produce enough money to address
the city schools’ deficit, let alone do things like reduce class size,
increase school security, or improve teacher training, even if it
contained all the money they claim it does. But in fact, it contains
only a fraction of what they say.
This legislation is a mockery. It makes a mockery of the good faith
attempts by the mayor of Philadelphia to cooperate with a governor of
the opposite party in addressing the plight of city schools. It makes a
mockery of all that this governor has said, not only about his
supposedly open and honest style of governance, but also about his
desire to be a partner with the city in solving the schools’ problems.
Mayor Street has been trying to work with Gov. Ridge. He has met with
him. He has tried to change the tone from that set by a previous school
superintendent who had a knack for alienating people in Harrisburg. He
collaborated with the governor in designing a new teachers contract.
In short, he has genuinely tried to be a partner with the governor in
solving the problems of the state’s largest school district. His reward:
He gets sucker punched with a bill cooked up behind closed doors.
There’s something else this mayor has done. I acknowledge that in the
past, the school district has sometimes cried wolf over its money
problems. But Mayor Street has made a concerted effort to be forthright
and honest about the real financial picture Philadelphia Schools.
Not like America’s Mayor, Ed Rendell. The reward for his honesty?
Legislature leaders give him a phony solution that doesn’t begin to
address the real magnitude of the city school’s financial problems.
Mayor Street is being treat so shabbily because this has nothing to do
with helping schools. It is about creating a patronage operation for
Republicans in the city of Philadelphia.
Republicans preach about local control on everything from taxation to
education. We hear it from them over and over. They don’t want the big
government from Harrisburg dictating to local officials, mandating
things to local officials.
But now Harrisburg is going to take over a municipal authority. Since
when are local parking lots a function of state government rather than
And is this the best they can come up with in for school equity?
What about all the other school districts, the rural and small-town
schools around the commonwealth who need more money to give their kids a
good education? What are we going to tell them? That Harrisburg
politicians are going to come in and take the quarters out of the
parking meters in some little town and give it to them to schools.
That’s the answer?
This makes a joke of any notion that the state – under this
administration and under Republican leadership in the legislature –
wants to do anything about giving all children in the commonwealth get a
Now everyone knows it.