Deal Reached to Clean Up the East Coast’s Biggest Open-Air Drug Market

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Also in our State and Local Daily Digest: Ky. fraud hotline raises concerns; Cuomo says “Amtrak must pay” for commuter mess; and Seattle leaders considering city income-tax plan.

CITY HALLS | After more than seven months of deliberation, the city of Philadelphia and Conrail have signed an agreement to address the city’s most notorious drug use zone—a railroad gulch that has become a hellscape filled with hundreds of thousands of used needles, and that the DEA refers to as the East Coast’s biggest open air drug market. Under the new agreement, the city and Conrail will shore up the police presence along the rail line and in the broader neighborhood. Conrail will be responsible for removing the mountains of used syringes. The encampment in the gulch, which serves as the informal home for 75 heroin-addicted people is set to be bulldozed, and in its place, a senior living complex will be built. The agreement also states that the Philadelphia Department of Health and Human Services will “offer any and all available services” to the soon-to-be displaced drug users. []

Nashville Mayor Megan Barry sent a letter to a federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement official asking agents to cease failing to distinguish themselves from local police officers as they’ve targeted the local Kurdish community, something that the mayor says is damaging community relations. According to ICE, agents are permitted to wear clothing that display the word “Police.” [The Tennessean]

During a committee hearing on Wednesday, members of the Seattle City Council discussed the possibility of implementing a municipal income tax for high-income earners, which would be a first in Washington state, which lacks a state income tax. The legality of a city income tax in the Evergreen State is not totally clear, and activists are hoping to use Seattle as a test case to see if a more sympathetic state Supreme Court would overturn previous rulings that have barred the collection of income tax in the state. Washington state’s tax structure, reliant on property and sales tax, plus special taxing districts, is regarded as one of the nation’s most regressive. There are big questions about the proposal, beyond its legal foundation, including whether Seattle’s city government has the resources to properly manage sales tax collection. [The Seattle Times; SCC Insight; KUOW; Route Fifty]

When the city of Gainesville, Florida gave their (now-former) staff specialist, Natwaina Clark, access to a city-issued credit card, they probably weren’t betting on the fact that city funds would be spent on a Brazilian butt lift. But that’s what happened. An investigative report released on Wednesday accuse Clark of stealing more than $93,000 from the city—she spent $61,00 on her own credit card, $31,000 on her bosses’ cards, and $900 on a co-worker’s card—$8,500 of which went towards her plastic surgery. Clark explained away a lifestyle that went beyond her $33,500 salary by telling colleagues she had a generous boyfriend. At one point her “boyfriend” sent an Edible Arrangements bouquet to her office. That “gift” later turned up as a $123.16 item on her city-issued credit card. []

GOVERNORS  | Florida Gov. Rick Scott has announced that we will sign a controversial charter-school-friendly, $419 million public schools bill. The measure will make expansion for private charters easier and will allow the facilities to receive added taxpayer funding. It’s a bill that has been loudly decried by advocates of traditional public education—including almost all the elected school boards in the state. Of particular concern to these groups is a provision that will require districts to share millions of tax dollars earmarked for construction with charter schools. [Miami Herald]

Another day, another wrinkle in Kentucky’s ongoing feud between the governor and attorney general. This time, Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear expressed “serious concerns” about Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s new, $250,000 hotline and website,, for residents to report government corruption. Beshear says the hotline is redundant and lacks “trained, independent” investigators. State employees already report suspected wrongdoing to the Department of Criminal Investigation. [Lexington Herald-Leader]

STATE LEGISLATURES | In the governance quagmire that is the state of Illinois, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has called a 10-day special legislative session starting next week to hopefully reach a budget compromise, something that has eluded the governor and Democratic leaders in the Land of Lincoln since July 2015. In the meantime, the Illinois Department of Transportation is prepared to stop all road-repair work. [WMAQ-TV / NBC Chicago; WLS-TV / ABC7 Chicago]

Democrats in the Delaware General Assembly have released a “blueprint” for raising personal income tax for residents of the First State, including a new tax bracket for high earners. Lawmakers are looking for ways to close a $400 million budget deficit. [The News-Journal / DelawareOnline]

Pennsylvania Republicans sent legislation to Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk barring local governments from banning or taxing recyclable plastic bags. Wolf opposes the measure but hasn’t decided whether or not to veto the bill. Opponents point to litter problems in cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, while proponents argue limiting bag use ultimately leads to the loss of manufacturing jobs. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]

INFRASTRUCTURE | As the commuter misery continues for commuters who use Penn Station in midtown Manhattan, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday that Amtrak—which owns the station and has initiated emergency track repair work for the summer that will cut capacity in and out of North America’s busiest rail station—must make amends for the inconvenience. "My answer is clear and simple—Amtrak must pay," the governor said. [Albany Times Union]

Idaho’s Buhl and Raft River highway districts will receive $3.3 million to repair roads damaged by winter flooding. The federal government declared the floods a disaster. Raft River needs an entire bridge replaced, and Buhl has one that needs repairs after being washed out in February. []