Budget expert says fiscal impact of SEPTA strike is hard to measure

As the SEPTA strike drags into the weekend, I've started wondering about the fiscal impact on Philadelphia's troubled city budget. After all, a transit shutdown was not factored into the original revenue projects. Will it matter?

I asked Uri Monson from the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority. As the director of the city's fiscal watchdog, he keeps a close eye on city tax revenue. According to him, it's very hard to predict what the strike will do to city finances.

“I think short-term impact there is negligible, if any,” Monson told me. “People are struggling to get to work and it's causing a backup, it's a loss of productivity. But most people seem to be heeding the mayor's call and being more forgiving for staff. People aren't getting fired.”

Monson says the bigger impact could be on the hospitality industry, since the strike might encourage people to not visit or come downtown.

“In the long term, there could be people who cancel vacations in Philadelphia. So we might see less revenue for hotels and related industries,” said Monson. “It certainly has reinforced the Philadelphia stereotype of having self-oriented, anti-progress unions.”

Monson feels very strongly about that last point. He says that the transit strike could dissuade businesses from moving to Philadelphia.

“The headline should have been the World Series and instead it got tied into the transit strike. Not just a transit strike, but a strike that happened in the current economic climate. That can impact how businesses view Philadelphia and make it less likely for companies to locate in Philadelphia. We'll never know the exact number, but the strike can be the kind of thing that pushes you over the edge.”

Monson doesn't see any bright spots in the strike, but he concedes it could lead to increased revenue in one area: parking.

“There may be some small increase in the parking tax. I don't know if there will be more parking tickets, the Parking Authority has said they will be more lenient,” said Monson. “The real impact is how many people will be fed up with SEPTA and stop riding altogether. That might lead to more people driving to work and parking.”

Also on IOM: Here's how SEPTA's money works; a guide to pensions.