The first City Council session of the year was held today, with six new members and a new president, Councilman Darrell Clarke. Education, employment and the economy were at the forefront of the discussion.
Clarke said that, as president, he hopes to concentrate on neighborhood improvements and community outreach, making councilmembers more accessible to their constituents and providing additional aid. "We may do some more things off the grid not related to legislation regarding assistance for those who need it," he said.
He said that, like many, the economy was number one on his mind. He hopes to pay down the city's debt and provide new employment opportunities to residents. "My first priority is figuring out how to create jobs," he said.
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Councilmen Bill Green and Wilson Goode Jr. both introduced job-stimulating legislation.
Green circulated a release from the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics showing that, as of June 2011, Philadelphia had the highest unemployment rate – 10.7 percent – of any surrounding counties in the state. Delaware County had the second highest rate at 8.3 percent, while Chester County was the lowest, with 6.4 percent. The national average unemployment rate was 9.3 percent at the time.
Green introduced a package that would require city-funded
jobs be limited to Philadelphia residents and private companies to
interview city residents first for entry-level publicly-subsidized jobs.
He said that job creation is inextricably tied to education and crime.
"You can say it's all about jobs, but, really, an educated workforce means more jobs. A revised tax structure means more jobs. There are a lot of levers you can pull for more jobs," he said. "The best crime reduction program is to give someone a job."
Goode's New Job Creation Opportunity Bill would revive a bill passed in 2010 that gives city job-creating businesses a $5,000 tax credit for each position made between 2012 and 2013. The original legislation's five-year period expired for about half of the 66 participating firms, which Goode estimated could reduce promised city job creation from 4,581 to 1,481.
Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds-Brown introduced another economic development initiative: a bill that would allow bars to stay open until 3 a.m., with the liquor tax revenue raised in the extra hour to go toward the school district.
She said that the city will have to hold joint hearings with the state for the law to pass and that State Rep. John Taylor has already agreed to speak with her about the issue. "I think that's a pretty good place to start," she said.
A recent poll on her Facebook page, which has over 5,000 friends, showed that voters were in favor of the measure two to one.