Philadelphia ballots for the Nov. 2 general election will include four questions asking voters to vote “yes” or “no” on issues like marijuana, housing, transportation and city jobs.
Essentially a local constitution, the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter gives the city the authority to create laws addressing municipal matters, as long as they do not interfere with existing state laws, said Michael Sances, a Temple University political science professor.
The ballot questions provide a way for Philadelphia voters to decide whether to amend the home rule charter, giving them a voice in city affairs like police reform and criminal justice, Sances said.
Voters can opt not to answer some of the ballot questions to keep from taking a side on issues that may not be relevant to them, he added.
Here are the questions that will appear on Philadelphians’ ballots on Nov. 2.
Shall The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to call upon the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the Governor to pass legislation that would decriminalize, regulate, and tax the use, and sale to adults aged 21 years or older, of cannabis for non-medical purposes?
This question asks voters to consider if and how Pennsylvania should begin decriminalizing recreational marijuana for adults statewide, according to the Philadelphia City Commissioner Office.
Pennsylvania currently permits the use of marijuana for medical purposes, but not for recreational use. Possessing 30 grams, a little more than one ounce, of marijuana or less is considered a misdemeanor, not a criminal offense, according to The Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act.
Voting “yes” on this question will amend the home rule charter to include a statement urging the governor and the Pennsylvania General Assembly to pass laws allowing the use, sale and taxation of recreational marijuana to Pennsylvanians above the age of 21.
The question is not binding, meaning voting “yes” will not change current state laws. However, the question allows voters to weigh in on the issue and send a message to the governor and state legislature about their thoughts on marijuana use, said Councilmember At-Large Derek Green who sponsored the measure.
“Given that a number of states across the country have legalized adult-use cannabis, I felt it was time for the citizens to weigh in on that question,” Green said.
Shall the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to establish and define the functions of a Department of Fleet Services, headed by a Commissioner, to manage all City-owned motor vehicles and City programs concerning alternative vehicle fuel initiatives?
This question asks voters to consider if the city should create a governmental department for its vehicles.
Voting “yes” to this question would amend the home rule charter to create the “Department of Fleet Management,” which would monitor fueling stations and manage all city vehicles, including ambulances, fire trucks, lawnmowers and police vehicles, Sances said.
Philadelphia has historically struggled to manage city vehicles because each department of the city’s government has been responsible for their own vehicles, leading to a lack of consistent maintenance and upgrades, Sances said.
“There is a history of this, like in the 90s, when the city could not keep track of all of the vehicles they had,” Sances said. “Now we know how many vehicles we have but there are probably still some management questions that people have.”
Former Governor Edward Rendell signed an executive order in 1993 establishing the Office of Fleet Management in use today, but it is primarily used for maintenance and is not in charge of new vehicle distribution and upkeep, Sances said. The new Department of Fleet Management would oversee all elements of department fleets in Philadelphia.
Shall The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to revise provisions related to the civil service system, to allow the Personnel Director to determine the number of people on an eligible list from which a hiring or promotion decision may be made, and to determine the number of times a person may be passed over and remain eligible on such a list, all based on the position and the needs of the civil service program?
This question asks voters to consider how the city can modify hiring practices for city departments, according to the Philadelphia City Commissioner Office.
Historically, the city government’s hiring process enabled officials to hire family members, friends or people with similar political beliefs who would further their agendas, Sances said.
In 1952, the city reformed the hiring process by incorporating civil service assessments that required department heads to choose between the top two applicants on the standardized testing list. The city also only allows applicants to be interviewed by the same department twice, according to the Philadelphia City Commissioner Office.
Voting “yes” on this ballot question will allow the city to select from more than the top two candidates from the civil service assessment, and will enable departments to interview applicants more than twice.
“Even though the original system was made to improve government, it made the applicant pool less diverse,” Sances said. “This question is a way to reform that and make it easier to hire racial and ethnic minorities.”
Shall The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to provide for a mandatory annual appropriation for the Housing Trust Fund?
This measure, also sponsored by Green, was created to allocate a set rate of 0.5 percent of the city’s general fund, about $25 million per year, to the Housing Trust Fund, which uses real-estate fees collected by the city for affordable housing and community development, Green said.
In the past, this rate fluctuated based on those in city leadership and was not guaranteed to the fund, Green said. This measure is an effort to combat homelessness and rising housing prices, he added.
About 5,700 people in the city of Philadelphia are experiencing homelessness, according to the Philadelphia Office of Homeless services website.
Voting “yes” will allow the city to allocate an annual appropriation for the Housing Trust Fund. This money would not be allowed to be used elsewhere, even in the case of an emergency like the COVID-19 pandemic, Green said.
“We have had some serious housing issues, this provides an opportunity for additional funds to go into the trust fund that can be used for housing production and preservation of existing homes,” Green said.