Diaz promises to fight for $15 an hour and free Wi-Fi
Mayoral candidate Judge Nelson Diaz released four different policy agendas this week — first a social justice schema, then an ethics code and a public safety initiative. All of them are available in both English and Spanish.
On Friday he unveiled his model for economic development.
There are a few familiar talking points, like tax reform for incentivizing new business and providing job training to the city’s unemployed residents.
But Diaz throws some new pitches as well, like targeted commercial development around the region’s colleges and universities. Most likely to attract attention, however, is his proposal for free Wi-Fi across the city and raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Small biz and tax reform
The agenda opens with a call to arms for small business growth.
In an country where small business employs half the private sector, Diaz rightly says it should be “the engine of our economy” here in Philly.
He proposes a familiar solution to encourage growth across all sectors: make the tax code more business friendly. This would involve shifting the burden from business and wage tax on to commercial real estate tax. In general, the plan is similar but not identical to Doug Oliver’s and Jim Kenney’s, but unlike them, Diaz doesn’t include tax credits for new businesses.
Traditional amendment to tax law is usually a sluggish process, yet the Judge says there might be a fast delivery option. He cites a yet unused “emergency amendment” procedure in the Commonwealth Constitution, which with a two-thirds vote in the General Assembly would fast-track reform onto the next ballot.
Would the proposed tax shift sit well with big biz, too? Diaz says that “...more businesses would be willing to pay somewhat more if the system made more sense and was significantly simpler.”
For clarity, Barry Caro, Diaz’s communications director, says the plan was drawn from conversations with business owners, as well as past proposals by the business community for revenue-boosting reform. The Levy-Sweeney tax reform plan, which was supported by the vast majority of the business community, does exactly what Diaz proposes.
To the Navy Yard and beyond
The economic policy also includes a general plan to expand the city’s infrastructure and transit options.
As he’s mentioned before, Diaz wants to connect the Navy Yard to the rest of the city by extending the Broad Street Line an additional 1.5 miles. He also wants to work with SEPTA and Amtrak to provide faster and more inexpensive transit up the Northeast Corridor. Here’s the breakdown, with an emphasis on easy commuting.
“Traveling from New York or Trenton to Philadelphia today is either expensive or slow, whereas it should be both fast and affordable,” Diaz says.
To travel on a commuter rail locally to New York, you have to take SEPTA to Trenton (roughly an hour) and then transfer to a NJ Transit train to New York. It totals out to 150-180 minutes for $24.50. To get to the Route 1 Corridor in central New Jersey costs you $17.50 and 100 minutes with a transfer. Amtrak has drawn up plans for a high speed route in the past. Regional commutership could explode if the plans are both cost- and time-efficient — $20-25 and 100 minutes one-way to New York and $12-15 for a 45-minute ride to Princeton, N.J.
$15 an hour and free Wi-Fi...too good to be true?
The Diaz economic agenda is topped off with some ultra-ambitious cherries. While they're clearly the thinnest policy points and few specifics are given about when or how, Diaz says he’ll fight the battles.
Important caveat: While supporting the $15 Now campaign, he doesn’t promise $15 an hour universally; he says he’ll push it as far as he can, starting with city contracts:
“I will use the bully-pulpit as Mayor to lead a coalition across the Commonwealth to fight for enabling legislation to raise our own minimum wage,” he said. “I will take all the action we’re able to on a purely local level to give our citizens a raise right now, and that is why I will raise the city’s minimum wage for city contractors to $15 per hour and expand the number of businesses and city employees subject to it.”
On free Wi-Fi, Diaz recognizes the digital divide and how it affects the city’s lower-income communities.
“High-speed Internet access is no longer a luxury; it is essential for our schools, for employers, and for any and every resident to stay connected. Even the least fortunate among us must have access.”
But beyond some vague words about contract renewals, there’s no concrete plan on how he’ll work out a deal with the big net providers. The plan was hatched once before and flopped, not to mention it wasn't exactly free.
In the last of these agenda add-ons, Diaz says he’ll take paid sick leave further by creating a “hybrid model for smaller businesses” similar to the one in New York City.