What's necessary to save Philly schools, the refrain goes, is “shared sacrifice.” That, as I’ve noted ad nauseam, translates to an expectation that educators sacrifice the most to avert devastating cuts, including the layoffs of 3,859 teachers, aides, administrators and other staff. But big business, thanks to laissez-faire sentiment stretching from City Hall to Harrisburg to Congress, will contribute almost nothing.
Let’s start with City Hall: As budget season ended Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez withdrew a proposal to raise $32 million from big business through a targeted Use and Occupancy tax hike. The plan had faced opposition from the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, which protested that it would “signal to job creators that our city might not be the most conducive place to set up shop.” But that is misleading: The city’s Actual Value Initiative, which reorders a long-broken property-tax system, shamefully shifts about $30 million of the tax burden from commercial and industrial properties to people’s homes. Beneficiaries of that shift include the tax-subsidized Comcast Center, which, thanks to its 10-year tax abatement, already received a $28.8 million break from 2008 through 2013.
Also consider wealthy nonprofits like the University of Pennsylvania, which has a $6.75 billion endowment and pays no property taxes. Unlike counterparts in other cities, Penn also contributes no payments-in-lieu-of-taxes. Nonprofits sit on $30.6 billion in untaxed city property. Mayor Nutter, despite a favorable 2012 state Supreme Court ruling, has failed to crack down.
In Harrisburg, Gov. Tom Corbett and legislative Republicans cut nearly $1 billion from public education. But they have not closed the “Delaware loop-hole,” which allows corporations to dodge hundreds of millions in state taxes, and they want to cut corporate net income taxes more. Though they finally passed a tax on gas drillers — some of Corbett’s most generous donors — it was rock-bottom low. For a true shared sacrifice, Harrisburg should at the very least freeze the planned decrease in the Capital Stock and Foreign Franchise tax — a move that would generate millions for schools statewide.
And in Congress, tax-averse Republicans have pushed the federal budget into the sequester’s vice. As a result, Pennsylvania is set to lose around $27.2 million in Title I funding for its poorest schools.
Nutter and many on City Council are putting big-business tax cuts ahead of Philadelphia students. Isn’t Gov. Corbett trouble enough?
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