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Voices | March 4-11

Reactions, rants and other random musings from you, our readers.

Image | Anne & Saturnino Miranda

The Shout out

The city recently loosened the restrictions to attend sporting events, and it looks like some fans will be allowed at Citizens Bank Ballpark to watch the Phillies.

Your turn:

Will you be one of those in the stands to cheer on the Phillies, or will you stick to watching them on TV?

Send your responses to voices@philadelphiaweekly.com.

Reform our democracy

The first 100 days of Biden’s presidency are under way and I’m hoping that he and Congress will make reforming our democracy a top priority. The best way to do that is by passing the For the People Act. 

The For the People Act is a bold piece of legislation that would strengthen our democracy for generations to come. The law would dismantle numerous barriers to voting and representation, like gerrymandering, racist voter ID laws, unnecessary hurdles to registration, and felony disenfranchisement, adding millions of new voters to the rolls. It would also reduce the influence of big money in our politics by enacting limits on donations from lobbyists and increasing the power of campaign contributions from Americans by enacting a small-donor matching program.

Without this much-needed reform, our political system will never be truly democratic or fully representative, meaning our government will continue to work only for the privileged few. 

With a new president in the White House, I want to build a better system for all Americans – which is why I’m urging Congress to pass the For the People Act. 

Theresa Patterson | Philadelphia

Image: Christin Hume

Newspaper’s editor is doing her job

In response to Jenny DeHuff’s participation in a Philadelphia Public Relations Association (PPRA) media panel last week:

Been a longtime fan of PW, dating back to the Tim Whitaker days. Honestly, I haven’t found the “shift to conservative opinions” shockingly radical. Instead, I see it as solid journalism — afflicting the comfortable. I’ve cheered at the occasional swipe at Jim Kenney, who, frankly, shouldn’t be immune to criticism. I live in the city (Northern Liberties), so I know things aren’t always perfect. I did make a point, once again, to go a bit out of my way to get the paper today (at the Foodery at 2nd and Poplar). Real awesome product each week — especially considering that you are a one-woman band.

Adam Dvorin | Northern Liberties 

Digital platforms critical for minority small businesses

While 2020 is now officially in the rearview mirror, many Philadelphians will spend this new year, and years to come, picking up the pieces from the economic and social toll the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on our lives. But hope is on the horizon. We are all holding fast to the promise of a rapid vaccination effort, and that our city’s small business community will remain resilient in the face of continued challenges.

Of course, getting back to “normal” will take time. And in the meantime, it is worth recognizing the digital support mechanisms that have held Philadelphia’s social and economic life together this past year. More specifically, it’s important to remain focused on how we can continue to support and uplift small businesses right here in Philadelphia that are doing everything they can to keep their physical and virtual doors open. 

In partnership with community stakeholders, the North Broad Renaissance is revitalizing our community, creating opportunities for growth, and improving the economic power and overall quality of life for our historic district and the small business owners who power it. While this year has strained our community like never before, those goals have not changed as we chart a path ahead.

Thankfully, we know we will not go it alone. We will continue to embrace the role technology has played in keeping businesses open this year as face-to-face interactions came to a halt and consumers moved their transactions online. From email platforms to cloud storage and bookkeeping software, companies have been able to rely on digital platforms more than ever over the past year.

We saw firsthand who was prepared for the pandemic, and who wasn’t. And a huge factor in survival this past year was familiarity with digital platforms. A recent study by the Connected Commerce Council (3C) found that small businesses across Pennsylvania already had a level of comfort using digital tools, which helped them adapt when the pandemic fundamentally shifted the way business is done. Over half of the companies surveyed in Pennsylvania, 67 percent, have increased their use of digital tools in response to COVID-19 and many plan to keep using those tools after the pandemic.

Importantly, the same study found that Black and Brown-owned businesses were half as likely as their white counterparts to receive aid through public loans, including PPP loans. This data further underscores the importance of digital adaptation in the minority small business community, and informs our work to ensure that minority-owned businesses are up to speed on the digital transformation necessary to survive and succeed today. 

These statewide trends align strongly with what we’ve seen in North Broad. One of our member businesses, a franchisee with Tropical Smoothie Café, leveraged a number of online delivery platforms to maintain revenues as a result of the downturn in foot traffic. They also benefited from social media referrals on platforms where customers could share their experiences and recommendations with one another.

Digital tools have been critical to our own operations at NBR as well. With grassroots outreach becoming nearly impossible at the height of the pandemic, we were able to leverage online outreach tools like social media to maintain our communications with struggling businesses and identify the support they needed.

Of course, our recognition of the value of digital platforms informed our services this past year in uplifting the businesses we represent. We were able to forward businesses to groups like the Temple Small Business Development Center to get businesses up to speed on the digital platforms they would need to survive. We have also held a number of live workshops to help businesses with their online marketing, social media presence, and general digital technology skills. 

As our community embarks on a journey of recovery, aided by continued adherence to health guidelines and the widespread vaccination effort, let’s hope lawmakers across the state embrace the opportunity that technology presents to not only help businesses in Philadelphia survive the pandemic, but thrive in a post-COVID world. 

Shalimar Thomas is the Executive Director of North Broad Renaissance.

Wolf’s budget hits Philly while it’s still down

It’s no secret that Philadelphia has been hit hard by the coronavirus and lockdowns. It was one of the first counties to lock down and one of the last counties to begin taking steps toward reopening through Gov. Wolf’s phased plan. That means local businesses and workers in the state’s most populated municipality have endured the most time without making money.

And just when many were starting to think the worst was behind us, Wolf gave his annual budget address recently. Based on his proposals, the city’s residents and businesses might be hit again.

As it stands, the governor’s budget proposal includes a plan to increase the personal income tax (PIT) from the current rate of 3.07 percent to 4.49 percent. He includes increases in income “allowances,” which he says will result in a tax reduction for the “working class.” In reality, according to U.S. Census data, the median household would see a tax increase across most major household categories.

For Philadelphians, a state income tax hike is an even bigger worry than it is for most other Pennsylvanians. Philadelphia is the fifth highest-taxed urban area in the country, barely lower than places like New York City and San Francisco. Apart from the local sales tax, Wolf’s proposal would increase the maximum income tax for Philadelphians from under 7 percent to over 8 percent.

During his address, Wolf said, “the question isn’t whether taxes are unpleasant or necessary. They’re both.” While most people would accept that some taxes are necessary, that isn’t the same as justifying increasing them, especially considering how hard this tax increase will hit Philadelphia’s already struggling small businesses in addition to workers.

According to an NFIB December survey, one-quarter of small businesses nationally will have to close if current economic conditions don’t improve over the next six months. Last August, more than 1,000 Philly businesses had already closed, according to Yelp data. Wolf’s proposed tax hike would disproportionately affect businesses and households that are already struggling.

Despite the name, the PIT isn’t only personal. It’s also the way that 85 percent of the approximately 1 million businesses in the state are taxed. This is because businesses such as Limited Liability Companies, Partnerships, and S Corporations file under the PIT rather than the much higher Corporate Net Income Tax (CNIT).

This simple fact goes against Wolf’s claim that he recognizes how important businesses are to our communities’ economic revival. Even though he proposed that the CNIT be reduced by 25 percent in his address, an increase in the PIT will hit many more businesses. This doesn’t make sense if you want to improve the business climate of the state.

Lawmakers in the General Assembly should reject Wolf’s bad ideas and instead implement policies that would actually improve the business climate and make life easier for workers.

One such reform is permitting all businesses – not just corporations – the ability to carry forward and deduct operating losses. Additionally, Pennsylvania has the 11th highest number of business regulations in the country, with almost 163,000 individual rules. And that doesn’t include COVID-specific regulations. These rules alone result in huge time costs to businesses, especially small ones.

Reducing the myriad of rules and eliminating harmful or needless regulations would not only make it easier for businesses to operate but also make it easier to ensure compliance with the regulations that do matter. Thankfully, there are already many bills introduced that address both these areas and would represent a vast improvement over the status quo.

Wolf was right that the state should make things easier for Pennsylvanians, especially those struggling; however, his tax plan doesn’t do that. Raising taxes on individuals and businesses is not the way to improve job opportunities and economic growth. For Philadelphians who have been hit the hardest during the COVID pandemic, the governor’s budget address wasn’t the message of relief and support they needed to hear.  

We can build back better as Philadelphians and Pennsylvanians, but that involves removing barriers and creating opportunity, not adding to existing hardship.

Tirzah Duren is a Policy Analyst for the Commonwealth Foundation, Pennsylvania’s free market think tank. @tzduren. This article was originally published at Broad + Liberty. Follow them on Twitter @BroadAndLiberty.

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