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Parking Authority windfall should be a win-win for Philadelphians

By Helen Gym on Dec 23, 2013 10:41 AM

What public agency has more than $230 million in revenues and some of the highest salaries in town, but doesn’t feel like sharing a $60 million windfall with the schools it’s supposed to help fund?

Yup. That would be the Philadelphia Parking Authority.

This spring, the PPA will put up for sale the first of 150 taxicab medallions, which will raise $400,000 to $500,000 apiece. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to do the math. Over the next nine years, the sale of 150 medallions could bring in $60 million to $75 million.

So where is this money supposed to go?

New York City used the sale of its taxi medallions to address budget deficits. But here in Pennsylvania, the state created a brand new “Taxicab Medallion Fund,” which will distribute the proceeds of the medallion sales right back to the PPA. This special fund shields the PPA from the traditional profit-sharing arrangement it has with the city and schools.

Good thing, too. Over the last two years, Parking Authority revenues are on the rise, but money sent to the School District has been plummeting – from $14 million in FY2012 to a projected $9.9 million this year, a loss of nearly one-third.

The Parking Authority's medallion sale has broader implications. For years, disability rights activists have been demanding that the PPA address the fact that there is only one wheelchair-accessible taxicab for every 20,000 disabled Philadelphians. You heard that ratio right. There are exactly seven wheelchair-accessible cabs in Philadelphia. Yet the PPA – in a decision entirely within their control – has decided to designate only 15 of the 150 new cabs for wheelchair accessibility. The others are up in the air. Compare this to New York City, where this month the city agreed to make half of its cabs wheelchair-accessible within six years.

In addition, taxicab drivers in the city have also been asking the PPA for a relief fund for drivers injured or killed on the job. Being a cab driver in Philadelphia is one of the most dangerous jobs around town. Two cab drivers were murdered this year; others have been seriously injured. Yet the PPA has refused to provide cab drivers any relief assistance despite ensuring that its own executives are well-paid – its board chair earns $75,000 per year for his board service.   

That’s why a coalition of parents, education and community advocates, the Taxi Workers Alliance (which represents cab drivers), and the disability rights community will go to Monday's Philadelphia Parking Authority board meeting to ask the PPA to rethink what seems like an awfully Grinchy plan. Instead of allowing the PPA to hoard tens of millions of dollars for itself and ignore the needs of residents and its own cab drivers, we’re proposing a meaningful solution.

We’re asking the Parking Authority to speed up the medallion sales. In fact, put all the medallions on sale at once and designate all of them wheelchair-accessible. Provide a much-needed service for Philadelphia’s disability community. Designate the $60 million-plus windfall for the schools and a small portion for a relief fund for cab drivers.

It’s a win-win all around.

Yes, it will take state legislation to make it happen. Yes, it will need the cooperation of the Philadelphia Parking Authority and buy-in from the local officials who support the agency. But in terms of Fiscal Year 2015 revenue, what are the options?

When it comes to school funding, the ideas have stalled out. Despite promises from city officials, last year’s cigarette and sales tax legislation haven’t moved in seven months. We have yet to hear a serious school funding proposal for FY2015 from either the city or the state.

Meanwhile, the Parking Authority is making money hand over fist from Philadelphians – money that is simply walking right out of our city. For example, the PPA has ticketed 787,000 Philadelphians through the red light camera program, reaping $72 million from residents over the last seven years of the program. Barely any of that money has stayed in Philadelphia. Instead, it’s going into the state treasury for distribution to legislative projects in other parts of the state.

We don’t want the taxicab medallion fund to be another lost opportunity for revenue.

The Parking Authority would like to tell you that it needs this money to expand taxicab enforcement in the city, despite the fact that it already has a fund specifically designed to do just that. It’s hard to justify $60 million to $75 million for the PPA to demand an enforcement that amounts to less than a 10 percent expansion of the Parking Authority’s fleet. While the PPA devises ways to extract more money from Philadelphia, isn’t it time to stop the practice of seeing this money walk out the door?

This $60 million is real money. It is one-time money, but it is real money. With all the needs in our city, ask yourself where you’d like to see this money go – the Parking Authority’s coffers or to our schools, our residents, and our working families?

To me, the choice is obvious.

Monday’s Parking Authority Board meeting takes place at 11:30 a.m. at the PPA offices, 701 Market Street, second floor.

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Comments (16)

Submitted by Taxpayer (not verified) on December 23, 2013 12:43 pm
This money belongs to the people of Philadelphia. It should be distributed to anyone who pays either city wage tax or property taxes.
Submitted by HS teach (not verified) on December 29, 2013 3:50 pm
Don't try to exclude anyone: anybody who pays rent, pays property tax.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 23, 2013 2:42 pm
The added funds would be nice, but given that the GOP runs the PPA I doubt there will be little appetite to send any of the money to Philadelphia's traditional public schools as that would disrupt their agenda of privatization.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 23, 2013 2:59 pm
The PPA is not audited and there is no managerial study so that their connected employees are way overpaid and will collect city pensions. No matter how much money they collect they will find a way of spending it so that the SDP doesn't get more than they want it to.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 23, 2013 5:21 pm
The PPA is a "righteous" group of folks. It was earned honestly and will be spent the same. Signed, taxi driver needing a medallion!!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 30, 2013 3:33 am
Like it says in the story this would be a one time fix this money becomes nothing after they give it to the school. I don't know about anyone else but if you don't have your money working for you you end up brokw. This money needs to work for us to bring us more money not goto sonething the city leaders can't fix. Do you keep pouring money into a car to fox it every month when you can just get a new one. Our public schools need something new not a one time fix. Gut the public school system and start over. If not we will be looking for one time fixes everyday from now on. The democrat party in this city has destroyed this city including our schools. People can not be this stupid to think all these one time fixes will change our schools. Oh right I forgot they all went to our public schools.
Submitted by Helen Gym on December 30, 2013 4:02 pm

To clarify it's a one time infusion of $60-$75 million, not pennies, so I'm wondering why you're so quick to dismiss it. Moreover, right now this money would go into the Parking Authority - is that a better use for you really? We will have a new governor by the time the next budget rolls around and there may be different opportunities till then. In the meantime, I'm all ears about alternative funding ideas which are welcome in addition to this. So far it's been crickets. 

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 30, 2013 11:38 pm
Helen, how about working FOR privatizing PGW. In the sea of waste and fraud that is Philly government, there are much bigger fish to fry than some one off parking authority windfall. That would actually result in a sustainable increase to the district as PGW real estate became subject to U&O and property taxes. So, that's only a few million a year to start. Maybe we could also get a one time fix of just 10% of the sale value which would be the same $60-$75 million here. Regardless, the city would be a better place without the political hacks controlling the natural gas company. I'd like to be proven wrong, but suspect that you are just part of the corrupt Philly machine defending the status quo interests.
Submitted by Brooks (not verified) on January 13, 2014 12:53 pm
Wow, such venom! You know, not everyone can afford private schooling. We still love this city but it's not always an option for the working class folks like me to fork over my rent money (yes I rent my living space I don't own it like you probably do anonymous). You can blame the democrats all you want for the city's financial problems; but when the state (GOP governor I might add) takes millions of dollars of revenue out of the biggest city in the commonwealth and won't give anything back it kind of kills your argument. The bottom line is that this city needs the money that it makes. The PPA acts like a vampire sucking the life blood from hard working Philadelphians and when we say we are hurting they look at us and say "We are providing a much needed service to a city with major traffic problems." And I say "Yes you are! But you're creating a bigger problem by being stealing money that doesn't belong to you." If you are a boss (Corbett) and treated your hardest worker/biggest earner (Philly) like the moron who shows up late everyday he will stop trying to work for you and start working out ways to screw you over. It's a lose lose situation for everybody. Btw I'm a freelance contractor and I have never worked for the city so don't even try that one.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on December 30, 2013 4:39 pm
The City of Philadelphia and various city entities do not need to be providing more money to the SDP. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania needs to live up to its duty to provide sufficient funding. Funding for schools should not come from a patchwork system set up in a time of crisis. Who is suing the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania regarding fair funding?
Submitted by Helen Gym on December 30, 2013 4:26 pm

[Don't know why my comment entered under EGS but it's meant to respond to the anonymous complainer just above]

To clarify it's a one time infusion of $60-$75 million, not pennies, so I'm wondering why you're so quick to dismiss it. Moreover, right now this money would go into the Parking Authority - is that a better use for you really? We will have a new governor by the time the next budget rolls around and there may be different opportunities till then. In the meantime, I'm all ears about alternative funding ideas which are welcome in addition to this. So far it's been crickets. 

Submitted by Helen Gym on December 30, 2013 4:24 pm

EGS: If we were to adhere to the fair funding formula under Rendell, the city would actually owe significantly more money to the schools. The city has taken an ad hoc, patchwork approach to its own funding responsibilities. I do think we need a strong conversation about local funding as well as state funding.

Submitted by Education Grad ... on December 30, 2013 4:48 pm
Helen, Thank you for the clarification. My understanding is that the City has increased the amount of money going to the SDP in the past few years. Apparently, this increased effort is not sufficient in order to meet its own funding responsibilities. This reliance on local money still points to the insufficient funding from the state. Since Corbett took office, my understanding is that the Commonwealth isn't providing the same level of additional funding per pupil for economically disadvantaged students. Is my understanding correct? I try to be informed about school funding, but I'm a teacher, not an accountant.
Submitted by Taxpayer (not verified) on January 1, 2014 11:35 am
Forget it. The people of Philadelphia have already had our property taxes raised twice in the last few years. We have also had a "temporary" sales tax increase appear to become permanent. All to help the SDP. The SDP budget is twice what it was 10 years ago despite declining enrollment. It's time for some belt tightening. The only people who haven't sacrificed are the PFT members. It's time for concessions from them.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 1, 2014 6:43 pm
Taxpayer, exactly. Because as everybody knows, PFT members don't pay sales or property taxes.
Submitted by HS teach (not verified) on January 1, 2014 6:06 pm
"Taxpayer", PFT members sacrifice every day. Stop repeating this nonsense.

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