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I’ve been keeping track of how much of my own personal budget is no longer going to the City of Philadelphia.   Since I now shop outside of the city in just 3 shopping trips since the beginning of the new year I’ve avoided nearly $100 in city taxes.  [It adds up fast if you smoke… one carton of cigs of any brand carries $20 of city tax on top of it]

Granted I still pay the City a heavy amount out of my wallet every year–roughly $19,000 when I add up all the taxes combined.   I recently had my property taxes shoot upwards by $1,400 alone.

These taxes continue to rise at the expense of the City purposely ignoring the money-sucking and hugely unpopular DROP program which needed to be culled.  It comes at the expense of runaway overtime at the Sheriff’s Office.   It comes at the expense of the City appealing fruitless lawsuits it cannot win for millions of dollars in hopes to delay a reckoning.

It also comes at the expense of the City continuing to look the other way at the mostly white-mostly male and mostly suburban-dwelling building trades who mooch off city contracting, which the Soda Tax is inclined to help–which is the primary reason why IBEW98 business manager John J. “Johnny Doc” Dougherty twisted the arms of City Council to get it passed–the revenue includes payola contracts destined to be overpriced and go to the union.

Working families never had a say in this tax.  Only special interests and lobbyists did.   If the Soda Tax had been proposed as a referendum in a ballot question and the citizens had voted on it then it would have gotten some legitimacy.  But no.

Less than half the Soda Tax revenue is actually going to Pre-K and the rest will be used to paper-over city finances to give a boost to Philadelphia’s credit rating so it can borrow more money and it serves as a temporary cushion to the mayor when the two AFSCME locals renegotiate their union contracts.  Once those labor contracts are signed the City will then become permanently dependent on the dwindling revenue source which will necessitate yet another punitive ignominious tax on something else.

I will not participate in this cycle anymore.

I have an upper limit to the amount of property tax I will tolerate before it’s time to move, and there is more than enough economic motivation for me to not participate in the Soda Tax.

The City has turned into a junkie, much like the heroin junkies that surround me, on this sort of sick dependence.  It’s not fiscally healthy.   The way this tax was passed was rotten and Old School Philly to the core, much less the tax itself isn’t just regressive as hell, it is retrogressive.  Business owners saddled with the Soda Tax charges will have to pass price increases on to other unrelated products to paper-over the losses.

And just like what happened with the cigarette tax, minority-owned bodegas across the City are being pushed to a precipice once more.   Scores of bodegas near Philadelphia’s borders with the suburban counties shut after the cigarette tax was passed.  The same will be true again for border stores that are still remaining.

Of course, the annoying vegan white oppressors regurgitate the same trope:  Drink water!!!

My response:  Eat shit.

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NN0TwSK_In the race to replace decrepit District Attorney Seth Williams the Philadelphia Ethics Board has announced that on December 20th, Untermeyer had donated $250,000 of personal financing to his own campaign.  Untermeyer had once been a candidate for Sheriff in the past.

This raises the minimum campaign donation amount for all the candidates in the DA’s race to $6,000 for individuals and $23,800 for PACs.

While Williams may be smug about his chances of winning the Democratic primary going up each time someone enters the DA’s race, Williams has yet to conduct any polling to determine just how likable much less vulnerable he actually is.

That could be a problem.  Williams last term has faced harsh criticism from both Black Lives Matter and FOP Lodge 5 as well as the ACLU and the local chapter of the National Organization of Women.  Even City Council took time out to tongue lash him.

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Yes, you might have heard this already but it bears repeating… as of today we are now subject to the Soda Tax.

The Soda Tax presents itself as a major victory to fat-shamers all over Philadelphia.   There was quite a disturbing and largely embarrassing amount of public discourse about how Philadelphians are just “too fat” and that the Soda Tax was for them a literal poor man’s substitute for a Fat Tax–emphasis on the poor since that is who is bearing the brunt of this tax: poor people who drink soda.

More astute progressives had to continually remind their dimmer colleagues–to no avail–how the purpose of the tax had nothing to do with punishing undesirable body types.

(PWD also hiked water rates so no liquid you drink goes without a higher cost today, including all the healthier alternatives.)

The original proposal for the tax was 4 cents an ounce on all beverages with sugar or sugar substitutes but even in its final implemented form of 1.5 cents it is a fairly steep tax given that the market price for some sodas at discounters like Wal-Mart and CostCo charge as little as 2 cents an ounce.

There’s other problems with the tax besides its very steep rate:   It’s not going to be doing anything close to what the tax was advertised for.   The tax was sold to the public as a vehicle to implement a Pre-K program in Philadelphia.   What was left out of that mix was the type of Pre-K that will be on offer–whether it’s basic babysitting with TV and coloring books, or whether it will be real child development.  The mayor’s office has stressed that they awarded contracts to PreK providers based on their STARS accreditation level, but certification relies mostly on the application the provider sent in and little else.   Your mileage may vary.

Mayor Kenney also promised a gold rush of spending on rec center renovations across the city, but as of this year no figures have been posted for how much rec center facilities will even get or what renovations will happen.

There’s also that surprise rainy day fund balance that needs propping up that Kenney is using the Soda Tax receipts for.

And then of course there’s that whole business about two groups who are boosters of Mayor Kenney securing a no-bid contract to administer the whole program, which is a quintessentially classic old-school-Philly maneuver that only City Council could be jealous of.

The court battle over the legality of the tax is still ongoing; the beverage lobby plans to appeal after the case was thrown out by Judge Glazer.  Even with that setback you shouldn’t invest any hope of a reversal; it’s a very safe bet to say the tax won’t be defeated on appeal–there is only one Republican on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

 

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Do not pay rent to a landlord if the heat is inoperable or shut off.

We are now in the depths of heating season.   All landlords in Philadelphia are required to provide a working means of heating your living space during October through April (May-September if the temps drop below 60F).

This batch of tenants have been trying to live in sub-20F temperatures until Thursday they finally had enough and started calling TV stations.  PGW had shut off the gas to the building back in April when the landlord did not pay PGW $60,000 worth of gas.  The rental building is owned by Emmanuel Freeman–the same dude who ran Germantown Settlement into the ground.

They could have had their heat back on a hell of a lot sooner if they had just stopped paying rent in October when heating season starts.   Landlords suddenly get motivated to do things when the rent checks disappear.

You may pay for heat separately to PGW or it may be included with your rent.  Regardless, if the heat is shut off because the landlord is responsible for paying the bill and hasn’t done so, or the furnace is not working and the landlord has yet to fix it the landlord is not entitled to your rent.

Sure, a landlord can threaten you with eviction.  That threat won’t work.   In Landlord-Tenant Court, no landlord can be allowed to proceed with their eviction case if they are not providing a means of heat to their tenant.   Space heaters are not acceptable except during the period while the heating system is actively under repairs.   If no attempt at a repair is being made, then no attempt at paying rent should be made.

What Should You Do

Call 311 immediately and report the no heat situation.   These are priority calls.  Someone will be sent out to measure the heat in your building.  If it is below standards, the Landlord will be receiving a fine from the City of Philadelphia.

Prepare a written notice to your landlord via e-mail or US Mail (postcard or letter).   Tell him this: “Hi [Landlord].   I am just writing to inform you that until the heating system is restored I will be withholding December/January rent in escrow in the amount of $XXXX.XX.   The funds will be surrendered to you as soon as the heating system is restored.  Thanks!”

Keep a copy of that notice.

You need to transfer your rent payment into an escrow account.   So go to your bank and open a temporary savings account and transfer the money to there.

If you don’t have a savings account or you don’t have access to banking you can take out money orders made out to your landlord and hold on to them until he has complied.

Is the Heater Fixed?  Pay The Rent Immediately

Don’t continue to withhold the rent for any other reason if the landlord fixes the heater.   Withholding rent over damage disputes is a bit more of a pain in the ass, but stopping rent over no-heat is easy and you hold all the cards.

So the moment that heater is fixed you need to surrender the rent money.

What If My Landlord Threatens Me With Landlord-Tenant Court?

All threats are nothing until the landlord actually files for eviction for non-payment of rent.  Until he actually does, ignore the threat.

The eviction process takes over a month and requires paper notices to be sent to you.   When you get the notice there will be a court date to show up at Municipal Court.    Attend the hearing.

Remember that I told you to keep a notice of withholding rent that you wrote to the landlord?   Hang on to it.   You need to show it to the judge.  This tells the judge when you detected the problem and when you told the landlord there was a serious problem.

A court clerk will call your name at the time of the hearing.   State “present” when your name is called.   You will be asked to go into an arbitration room off to the side of the court room.  You do not need to do this but you can if you want.  Don’t settle for anything without the heat working.   You can stand up anytime in the courtroom and tell the clerk that you’re “finished” with arbitration and would like to hear the case now.   That’s when you inform the L&T judge about the lack of heat.   No judge is going to grant the landlord’s request for unpaid rent when there is non-functioning heating in the building.