August 1: Cigarette tax session cancelled | Zoning fix for multi-generational housing | City government’s Innovation Lab | Highway funding gimmicks

Philly school funding is imperiled once again. Lawmakers were supposed to meet August 15th to pass state enabling legislation for a local cigarette tax, but House Republicans have been unable to find the votes in their caucus, so leadership cancelled the session. Local election law attorney Adam Bonin says Governor Tom Corbett has the power to call the legislature into session anyway, but it’s unclear yet whether he will do so.

Lawmakers in Congress can’t get it together either. The Senate passed a House bill patching the Highway Trust Fund through May on the last possible day before US DOT would have to start cutting payments to state and local governments. But the patch is held together by gimmicks (AP’s term, not ours) — pension “smoothing” (read: underfunding), extending some customs fees for another year, and transferring money from a fund to pay for leaking underground storage tanks. 

Just like that, I-495 southbound is already open again, weeks ahead of schedule. “The northbound lanes are expected to reopen within two to four weeks after additional repairs are made, said Geoff Sundstrom, a spokesman for the Delaware Department of Transportation.”

Sandy Smith says if Philadelphia wants to make it easier for seniors to age in place, we have to change the zoning code to allow for multi-generational housing. “Granny flats” or “accessory dwellings” are apartments connected to a single family home, typically with a private entrance to afford everyone some privacy. A local developer has come up with an interesting model, but the zoning code won’t allow it. Sandy says there’s a simple fix.

Another day, another group with a big plan to shape the conversation in the 2015 campaign. Earlier this week it was City Council, and yesterday it was the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, announcing an initiative to use neighborhood data and community outreach to shape a policy agenda for the 2015-2019 session. 

The 16th floor of the Municipal Services Building is now the city’s Innovation Lab, thanks in part to a $1 million grant from the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge. It’s intended as a creative space for city employees from across departments to work on issues that span multiple departments. “The Innovation Lab, touted as one of the first of its kind in the country, is supposed to be free of the usual government silos and a place in which city employees can dream up governing strategies that make use of technology. Markers are placed under the window sills so that the glass facing City Hall can be used like whiteboards.”

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