Should revenue from sale of taxi medallions benefit Philly schools?

    Follow the money.

    Taxi medallions in Philadelphia, depending on the market, can sell for as much as $400,000, or more.

    And over the next decade, the Philadelphia Parking Authority, which oversees the Taxicab and Limousine Division, will authorize creation of 150 new taxicab medallions.

    The new medallions will be specifically designated for wheelchair-accessible cabs.

    Right now, there’s just one wheelchair-accessible cab for every 20,000 Philadelphians who can’t be accommodated by standard taxicabs.

    Revenue expected from sale of the new medallions at $400,000 each works out to $60 million. The PPA plans to issue 20 to 30 medallions per year for the first two years — starting in 2014 — and then 15 medallions per year after that. Over the course of eight  to 10 years, the medallions are expected to raise roughly $6 million per year.

    So where will that money go?

    It’s a question that Helen Gym, co-founder of Parents United for Public Education, has been mulling as the School District of Philadelphia has limped through its first few months of classes.

    The short answer is: None of the medallion money will go to the cash-strapped school district.

    All of it, in fact, will go to a fund controlled not by the PPA, but by the Pennsylvania State Treasury.

    Parents group says school should get funds

    Parents United is calling for the majority of the funds to be redirected for the benefit of Philadelphia school children.

    “The schools deserve the money. It is the most appropriate use of funds. There’s no question that this should be a major priority, a major initiative of any legislator or elected official in the city of Philadelphia … and the state of Pennsylvania,” said Gym.

    The Philadelphia Parking Authority declined to comment on this proposal, but offered some contextual information.

    The PPA’s revenue is broken down into two streams. Proceeds from medallion sales are sent to the state treasury. Proceeds from the PPA’s “on street” revenue are used to cover agency expenses; the remainder is divided between the city and the school district. “On street” proceeds include revenue raised through parking meters and tickets.

    According to the school district, it’s received more than $48 million from the PPA from fiscal years 2008 to 2013. The PPA has budgeted to send the school district more than $9 million this fiscal year.

    The PPA says year-to-year funding levels fluctuate based on snowfall. More snow means less parking revenue.

    (Note to Philly school kids: Think twice about praying for snow days.)

    A representative for the state treasury department would not comment specifically for this story, but said that its power lies only in supervising funds, not obtaining or dispersing them.

    Funding change would need legislative approval

    Redirecting the money from the treasury to the school district would require state legislation.

    State Rep. Brian Sims was one of 15 lawmakers who introduced a bill this summer — now law — that created the Taxicab and Limousine Medallion Fund within the treasury department.

    Sims, D-Philadelphia, is now in Japan at the invitation of U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy. His chief of staff, Mason Lane, said Gym’s proposal was “worth looking into.”

    Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter’s office declined to comment on Gym’s proposal. The state Department of Education did not return requests for comment.

    “We fully support additional revenue, and the district is neutral in regards to its source,” said Fernando Gallard, school district spokesman, in an email statement. “We do prefer revenue sources that are recurring.”

    Taxi groups support plan

    Gym’s proposal has the support of the Greater Philadelphia Taxi Association and the Taxi Workers Alliance of Pennsylvania, in part because Gym is calling for 10-percent of the medallion proceeds to go into a relief fund for taxicab drivers killed or injured while on their shifts.

    “When drivers are hurt or injured on the job, they’re pretty much left to fend for themselves,” said Ronald Blount, president of the Taxi Workers Alliance of Pennsylvania. Blount referenced the May slaying of 33-year-old cab driver Hafiz Salman Sarafaqaz.

    Blount said Sarafaqaz’s wife and daughter are “almost homeless.”

    Susan Gobreski, executive director of Education Voters PA, joined Parents United’s call for change.

    “We need to develop a real education funding formula,” she wrote. “But absent a formula right now, we need to find the money to pay for the educational programs and supports that children need.”

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