City Council candidate: Give the PPA back to Philly

About George Matysik

  • A lifelong Philadelphian, born in Olney and raised in the Lower Northeast
  • Director of Government Affairs and Public Policy for Philabundance
  • Graduated from the University of Pennsylvania
  • Advisor to former Pa. Congressman Joe Sestak
  • Founder and Co-Chair of the Friends of Mifflin School, an organization dedicated to providing resources to his neighborhood’s community public school.
  • Board member of Mercy Vocational, a career and technical training school, and the Pennsylvania Resources Council, the state’s oldest environmental advocacy organization.

At-large City Council candidate George Matysik recently released one of the first issue white papers of the 2015 campaign, introducing some outside-the-box education ideas.

Matysik, 33, is currently the government relations director for anti-hunger organization Philabundance, studied urban planning at Penn, and has worked on various Southeast PA campaigns, most recently community activist Jared Solomon’s primary challenge to State Rep. Mark Cohen in the 202nd House District in the Northeast Philly.

One idea in the white paper will be of particular interest to PlanPhilly readers, due to its overlap with transportation and public space issues: winning back control of the Philadelphia Parking Authority from the state.

Here’s the key section:

At a time when additional revenue is desperately needed for our public schools, there is a strong case to be made that the takeover of the Parking Authority has not lived up to promises and expectations, and should be delivered back to the City. In 2001, around the same time the State took over our school district, former State Representative John Prezel also initiated a State takeover of the Philadelphia Parking Authority, one of the few revenue generating departments in the city.

The Parking Authority received nearly $234 million in revenue in the last year, yet the City and School District received just $71 million of this total from the Commonwealth despite increases in fines. This intake translates to just $0.30 on the dollar, compared with initial estimates of $0.45 (as it had been in some prior, City-run, years) when the takeover took place. By making up this gap, $33 million dollars (for context, this more than the $32 million in cuts the School District needed to make to approve their budget) could be going back in the City coffers, where it is needed.

The core of Matysik’s case is that ever since the state took over, the share of money flowing back to the city and the public schools has decreased over time, and he claims we could be getting $33 million more locally – more than the $32 million that was cut from the School District’s budget in the most recent budget season.

Even though incoming Governor Tom Wolf would likely be friendly to this idea, the fact is that it would still have to pass through the two houses of the legislature, both of which are controlled by Republicans. I asked Matysik to speak to some of the practical and political questions around selling the idea to a majority of state lawmakers.

PlanPhilly: How practical of an idea do you think this is, and what is the path to getting it done?

George Matysik: I think it is practical, because it’s different from, say, the School Reform Commission. With the SRC, you have a conservative legislature that believes they can manage oversight of the schools better than the city can. And I have to disagree with that, but that’s neither here nor there. But with the PPA, the argument can be made to those same conservative legislators that PPA, as a local authority, can bring a higher percentage of revenue back to the city. When we’re talking with those conservative legislators we’re saying ‘Look you’re taking a higher percentage of our fees than we were than when this was under local authority.”

PP: To be completely cynical about it, it’s one of the worst kept secrets in local politics that the PPA is essentially a Republican patronage organization. It’s the only thing they really control in the city. You’re talking about an appeal to conservative ideological values, but the partisan political calculus says they should retain control over it.

GM: Absolutely. And I understand that, but I think if you were to make an ideological argument to those conservative legislators in the center of the state, that we ran the PPA more efficiently under the city than it’s being run under the state.

PP: You do see a push among conservative politicians to try to devolve authority – when it’s at the federal government, to the state level; or when it’s at state level, to the local level – so the more local you go, the better. Do you think they’ll buy it in this case?

GM: [Laughs] I don’t know, but I think there’s certainly an argument to be made, and the need to make the argument is essential because if we were collecting the revenue we were told we’d be generating, we’d be looking at an additional $33 million a year in revenue that would be going to our city and our school district. And if you look at the cuts that were made to the school district last year, it was $32 million. So that additional revenue would have prevented those additional cuts from being made last year.

PP: When is the time to bring this up? When we’re negotiating with the state over the school budget next year?

GM: Frankly I think the time to bring it up is now because, over the next few years, there are going to be a lot of discussions about how we can generate additional revenue for our schools. That problem isn’t going away any time soon. I know the Governor-elect has been talking about the dire budget situation that he’s about to walk into. So I think that we need both the city and the state looking at additional revenue that is available. I certainly believe that there’s additional efficiency we could get out of the Parking Authority.

PP: The politics of the last few rounds of school budget negotiations have focused on letting Philly raise more local revenue, keep more local revenue, rather than appropriating more state revenue – the local cigarette tax being the latest example of this. This idea seems to be in that category. 

GM: Another great example is the Turnpike. More than three quarters of toll revenue comes from the Turnpike in the area between the King of Prussia Mall and New Jersey. That’s going to roads all across the Commonwealth. So we are in many ways a donor region to the rest of the state. But then when we’re looking for revenues for our projects, or our schools, whatever it might be, we hear from the legislature that they’re not going to bail us out, when in fact it’s our money that we’re talking about.

PP: Do you have a sense of why the city and school district are getting a lower share of PPA revenue now? Where’s the money going?

GM: There have been a number of moves by the PPA that have generated revenue, where often the city’s been in the position of having to continually ask to get a cut like the red light program, asset sales like when they’re selling the parking lots, taxi medallion sales. The revenue from those will often end up going back to the state. Like the taxi medallions, they’ll say they need the money to regulate taxis, and so they won’t give that percentage and then we have to argue that we should get that percentage. So the difference, if we have the local authority, is we can try to squeeze every penny of revenue that we get back into our city and back into our schools. 

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