While the two big races at the top of the ticket have sucked up most of the oxygen this election cycle, in Philadelphia, there are two important ballot questions to consider. You will be asked about whether or not changes should be made to the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter regarding ownership of the city’s airports and about giving preferential treatment to graduates of Career Technical Education (or CTE) programs for municipal jobs. Here’s what’s at stake in each case:
Last year, Philadelphia International Airport welcomed more than 19 million passengers from 23 airlines. In 2019, the airport, which is self-sustaining and uses no local tax dollars, generated an estimated $17 billion for the regional economy and accounted for 106,000 full-time jobs. Although it is owned and operated by the City of Philadelphia under the purview of its commerce department, airport officials, the mayor and City Council want to create a Department of Aviation to give the airport more autonomy, with its director reporting directly to the mayor.
During hearings about the proposal, the airport’s former CEO, Rochelle “Chellie” Cameron, testified that a standalone department would “be able to make decisions more efficiently and complete projects more easily. It would also give airports (Philadelphia International and Northeast Philadelphia) more discretion with their workforces and would give the airports a more prominent seat at the table for budget hearings and other important decisions,” according to Billy Penn. This seems to me like a win-win.
The second ballot question is more complicated. First, a little background: To get a job in city government, you have to pass a civil service exam to ensure competency. The test comes with built-in preferences for certain groups like veterans and the children and grandchildren of police and firefighters who were killed in the line of duty. Critics of the ballot proposal have called it a slap in the face to veterans, many of whom already have a hard time finding work. According to City Councilmember David Oh, a veteran himself, of the 30,000 people Philadelphia government employs, less than 2% are veterans.
While Council’s goal of expanding the civil service benefit to CTE grads is noble, advocating for one disenfranchised group on the backs of another is counterproductive – and waters down the pool of qualified applicants who need city jobs. It could also set a precedent for politicians to cherry-pick other groups for favorable treatment in the future.