School advocates hammer PPA over Uber deal

One speaker after another told the Philadelphia Parking Authority's board Tuesday how much even a little money could mean for the School District.

Julia R. Masterman Middle and High School sometimes lacked toilet paper and writing paper, said Siduri Beckman, a senior there.

The district could provide working drinking fountains for all its schools with about $1 million, said City Councilwoman Helen Gym.

And a parent of a daughter about to enter kindergarten, Hannah Sassaman, said she plans to join other parents at Penn Alexander School to raise donations that the district needs to supplement its budget.

They went to the PPA meeting because if the agency has its way, there isn't likely to be any school funding relief from tax revenue created when ride-share businesses start operating legally in Philadelphia.

An earlier draft of a bill in the Assembly offered the district 66 percent of tax revenue generated by ride sharing in Philadelphia, but that has been amended to guarantee at least $2.5 million, and up to $4 million, for the PPA. Under that arrangement, ride-share businesses like Uber and Lyft would likely not generate enough revenue to leave even a tax morsel for the district.

The PPA argued it needs up to $4 million annually to properly regulate the industry. Regulating the estimated 15,000 vehicles used in ride sharing in Philadelphia will require five new inspectors at about $80,000 each, officials said, but the $4 million is largely needed to make up for big losses caused by the battering the cab industry has taken since ride sharing came to the city in 2014.

Money from assessments, inspection fees, vehicle changes and drivers' certifications, anticipated to be almost $4 million in fiscal year 2017, represent a 25 percent decline compared with the previous year, PPA officials said.

Even with the potential revenue from ride-share businesses, the PPA expects it still won't receive the full $4 million to cover the cost of regulation, and will likely have to raise fees on cab and limo drivers, said Vince Fenerty, executive director. Though the Parking Authority reported a $6 million operating income in fiscal year 2015, the most current data available, Fenerty said the division responsible for regulating taxis and limos, which will be responsible for ride sharing, operates at a loss.

The divisions are financially distinct, so money can't be moved from one to bolster another. Dedicating money from ride shares to fill that hole made sense, Fenerty said.

"It's a better business deal," he said, "a far better business deal."

Gym disagreed.

"There is no place in this world where $4 million should go to the Parking Authority ahead of schoolchildren," she said.

The School District's $2.8 billion budget is perpetually facing deficits. Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. recently said the district's expenditures were growing at 4.5 percent while revenue was growing at 2.2 percent. The Parking Authority is supposed to give a portion of its revenue to the city and the School District, but the pot going to the district has been shrinking in recent years.

PPA officials say it's a function of how payments to the city are structured, along with the growing cost of its pension responsibilities, which are now $10.4 million a year.

Gym said she wants an audit of the authority. "I do not buy that it costs $4 million to regulate Uber and Lyft," she said.

The bill is not expected to be voted on until next week, legislators said, and amendments could change the tax revenue formula and provide some money to the district. Advocates for the district are hoping pressure on Philadelphia's legislative delegation will prompt changes in the bill.

"I urge you to reject," said Beckman, the high school senior, during the PPA meeting, "any plan that does not benefit the schoolchildren of Philadelphia."

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