Philly parking tax vote delayed again as protesters target Parkway Corp.

Daniel Trubman holds up a sign that says,

Daniel Trubman, with 5th Square, said that he’d prefer to see money for tax cuts for parking lot corporations go to education, jobs, and cleaning up city streets. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Philadelphia City Council once again postponed a committee vote on a proposal to slash taxes on parking lot revenues, as urbanist groups picketed outside the headquarters of Parkway Corporation, a prominent lot and garage operator that has backed the cuts.

The delay on the parking tax — the third time council punted on the controversial bill in under a week — also comes as council is floating an amendment that would alter Mayor Jim Kenney’s proposed wage and business tax reductions. The new plan would lessen the cost of those tax breaks by eliminating a proposal to cut rates for non-residents.

The parking tax reduction was pitched last month by Councilmember Cherelle Parker, and builds off the scheduled expiration of a one-year hike to the parking tax rate enacted in 2020. Parker’s proposal would instead lower the tax rate by nearly a third, costing the city roughly $130 million in revenue over five years. The lawmaker pitched the bill as a way to drive trickle-down benefits to parking lot attendants.

“The proposed lowering of the highest-in-the-nation parking tax is an incentive to bring parking lot operators to the table to negotiate for a living wage for their employees,” said Parker, in a statement last week.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor
5th Square, Feet First Philly and 350 Philadelphia held a rally at the Parkway Corporation building on Broad Street in Center City in opposition to a proposed parking tax cut by City Council on June 14, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

But the bill has been derided by progressives and urbanists as a giveaway to lot operators that contains no binding provisions to improve wages or working conditions.

On Monday, the urbanist political action committee 5th Square led a small protest outside the downtown offices of Parkway Corporation — which is helmed by Robert Zuritsky, a major political donor who has long championed parking tax reductions and sits on a special advisory committee Parker says will ensure the tax cut benefits lot workers.

Daniel Trubman, a spokesperson for 5th Square, said the tax cut would encourage downtown driving while diverting revenue from other services.

“We think the city has higher priorities than giving $100 million to parking lot tycoons,” he said. “We’d love to see more money go to schools or clean up the streets, or pay for more pool lifeguards. There’s no lack of need for city services.”

Last week, progressive groups staged a similar protest, holding a sit-in in Mayor Kenney’s office to decry tax breaks in the city budget, including the parking tax.

The parking tax cut is supported by labor union 32BJ SEIU, which represents some parking lot attendants. The union unveiled a labor proposal last week, asserting Parkway and Brandywine Corporation would agree to a top wage of $17 an hour, union health benefits, paid sick leave, paid vacation, and retirement benefits for attendants, rolled out over four years.

However, other parking lot operators had not signed onto the plan and these labor promises were not written into the legislation. The union says its lowest-paid lot attendants earn $8 an hour. In prior council hearings, Parkway officials indicated the company started employees at $13.25 an hour and already provided many of the outlined benefits.

It also remains unclear how the cuts would be paid for. Parker has suggested using federal pandemic relief funds, but Kenney administration officials have said the lost revenue would likely require cuts elsewhere in city government.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

The political future of the bill remains unclear.

Councilmembers Parker, Curtis Jones Jr., Bobby Henon, Derek Green, Brian O’Neill, David Oh, and Mark Squilla all cosponsored the bill. Three progressive council members — Kendra Brooks, Helen Gym, and Jamie Gauthier — came out against the proposal (and business tax cuts generally) two weeks ago.

On Monday, Councilmember Alan Domb’s office confirmed that the real estate mogul would recuse himself from voting on the proposal due to advice from the city Board of Ethics, which found a conflict of interest based on Domb’s “direct and indirect ownership interests.”

Council President Darrell Clarke said his office would not comment on budget or tax-related bills. Councilmembers Cindy Bass, Kenyatta Johnson, María Quiñones-Sánchez, Katherine Gilmore Richardson, and Isaiah Thomas all declined to take a public position on the bill.

5th Square, Feet First Philly and 350 Philadelphia held a rally at the Parkway Corporation building on Broad Street in Center City in opposition to a proposed parking tax cut by City Council on June 14, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

While Parker likely has support for the passage of the bill, with Kenney opposed to the cuts it was not clear if she had the twelve votes needed to reverse a potential veto.

Some council sources said the parking tax proposal had been rolled into larger budget horse-trading between Kenney and council that is still unfolding.

On Monday, council circulated a new budget amendment that would keep proposed wage and business tax cuts for Philly residents, but would instead maintain current rates for non-residents who work or operate businesses in the city. While Kenney’s initial proposal would have cost $18.9 million, the amendment would cost $6.5 less million.

Council and Kenney must agree to a final budget for the next fiscal year by July 1.

Max Marin contributed reporting to this story.

Subscribe to PlanPhilly

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal