PHILADELPHIA – Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell told members of the metro Atlanta LINK delegation Wednesday night that “first and foremost you have to act as a region.”
Rendell went on to say: “If they are going to hear you at the state capitol, the city and the suburbs have to act as one; you have to care as one.”
Before serving as governor, Rendell was mayor of the City of Philadelphia, which has a population of 1.6 million people in a region of 6 million.
But what the LINK delegation had heard earlier in the day is that Philadelphia – much like Atlanta – often has problems thinking and acting like a region.
The greater Philadelphia area actually includes three states (meaning having to work with three governors and three state legislatures) as well as 350 local governments, according to Barry Seymour, executive director of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission – the equivalent of the Atlanta Regional Commission.
“At the micro level, I wouldn’t say we love our local governments, but we have a lot of them,” Seymour said. “It’s a challenge for us to be identified as a single region.”
Part of the problem is that Philadelphia sits half-way between New York City and Washington, D.C., — in the shadows of the world’s financial center and the world’s center of political power. It seems as though that has given Philadelphia a bit of an inferiority complex over the years.
“In a lot of economic and social ways, we are region,” said Ira Goldstein, president of policy solutions for The Reinvestment Fund. “Governmentally you don’t see much cooperation across municipalities, or heaven forbid, states.”
Outside of the urban area, the states (Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware) view Philadelphia as “the sinkhole where resources go and don’t come out,” Goldstein added.
Even if that perception is not supported by data or facts, it is hard to convince people living in rural areas that Philadelphia actually is a net contributor to the states’ economies.
Rendell, who served as Philadelphia’s mayor from 1992 to 2000; and as Pennsylvania’s governor from 2003 to 2011, has been able to witness the urban-state divide from both points of view.
“There are different perspectives,” Rendell told the delegation of about 110 leaders from metro Atlanta after dinner at Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center on Independence Mall. “Not only do cities have special issues; it creates jealousies in other part of the states with people saying: ‘Philadelphia got all the money.’ Philadelphia actually sends more money to the state capital than it gets back. Nobody understood what we did for the rest of the state.”
Rendell said that it is up to the metro region to tell its story to state leaders why the Atlanta region is so important to the Georgia economy. But first — “you have got to act as a region, and you have got to be active as a region.”
When trying to develop an agenda, Rendell said that there is nothing more important to a metropolitan economy than transportation — transit and roads. Pennsylvania has just passed a complicated restructuring of wholesale gas tax (removing a cap), and it is expected to generate a total of $2.5 billion in revenue over the next five years.
A good place to start is to make sure that the metro area goes to the polls to support candidates who will support a regional economy.
“We don’t vote,” Rendell said. “We only vote in presidential elections, but we don’t vote in other (local and state) elections… If cities ever used their political clout to the maximum, they would be pretty tough.”