Proposed cut to Philly’s parking tax could have strings attached

A Philadelphia parking garage at 8th and Chestnut streets. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

A Philadelphia parking garage at 8th and Chestnut streets. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphia City Council is debating whether to use federal stimulus money to lower some taxes. Under discussion Wednesday were ideas for using the funding to do everything from cutting parking tax rates from 25% to 17%, as proposed in a measure introduced last month by Councilmember Cherelle Parker, to phasing out the business income and receipts tax.

Councilmember Katherine Gilmore-Richardson said it’s time that the city concentrates on stimulating businesses.

“Enough is enough. We are pitting communities and industries against each other,” she said. “Let’s talk about the facts, let’s talk about where we can reduce the budget, realize actual savings, come up with a real long-term strategy.”

Councilmember Helen Gym said she wants to see specific investments in Black-owned businesses.

“Atlanta invests in Black businesses, that’s [why] Atlanta is as strong as it is,” Gym said. “Philadelphia needs a Black business plan, [a] recovery plan that invests in local strong businesses.”

Kenney administration officials say there isn’t enough money, even with the stimulus funds, to spend as much as the council wants to because the city is facing a deficit.

Currently, Philadelphia’s parking tax is almost 10% higher than New York City’s. If the proposed reduction were made, the tax here would be just less than the Big Apple’s.

Parkway Corp. owner Robert Zuritsky, who heads the Philadelphia Parking Association, said cutting the tax would give parking lot owners some breathing room after being one of the harder-hit industries during the coronavirus pandemic.

Business at the parking lots was down 95% while the tighter COVID-19 restrictions were in place, and Zuritzky said it is up to only about 65% of pre-pandemic levels now. The hope is that if the parking tax is cut, it will act as a lure for customers and also give lot owners the ability to continue their businesses instead of selling their valuable land to developers for residential properties.

Zuritsky said a parking tax cut here could be a first of its kind in the country and lead to similar cuts in other cities hoping, like Philadelphia, to bring tourists back while creating new jobs.

Parker said she will not move the bill forward until there are assurances for a career path for workers who are mostly Black and brown. She said a committee would meet later this month to hear proposals from lot developers that would give such things as benefits and 401(k) opportunities as part of the recovery deal, which will need council approval.

Broke in PhillyWHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.

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