Casino tax revenue for property taxes?

Here’s a question that is likely to generate some spirited debate: Should Philadelphia direct its share of casino tax revenue towards the city’s wage tax or property tax?

Philadelphia is the only locale in Pennsylvania that does not apply all of its gaming tax revenue for property tax relief. Instead, the funds are used to hold down the wage tax. It's a big piece of change: $431.5 million since 2006.

State Rep. Rosita Youngblood, Democratic chair of the House Gaming Oversight Committee, is not sure this is the best way to go.

Youngblood notes that 30 percent of the people paying wage taxes – and thereby benefiting from tax relief from casinos – commute into the city from somewhere else. But with higher property taxes on the horizon for many Philly homeowners in the wake of Mayor Nutter’s Actual Value Initiative, she wants to know if casino revenue should be redirected to helping residents.

The House will at least crunch the numbers to find out how much is generated on a per-capita basis for wage taxes versus how much homeowners could benefit from property tax relief. In a vote May 15, the House unanimously agreed to address her question.

"With the mayor's AVI plan taking effect, it just makes sense to have independent financial experts study the best use of gaming money in Philadelphia,” Youngblood said. “Does wage tax relief or property tax relief have the greatest impact for the taxpayers of the city? That's what this study will answer.”

 She also wants an accounting of how the city spends its gaming revenue. “I know my colleagues on the Gaming Oversight Committee have asked for an accounting of how the city has spent this money in years past, and this study will help them get the answers they are looking for,” she said.

But to actually change how the flow of revenue to Philadelphia, the General Assembly would have to re-open the Gaming Act, a move that would face much resistance from lawmakers.

Stay tuned.