Finding new revenue sources for the Philadelphia School District is a worthy idea. But given the Philadelphia Parking Authority’s abysmal track record, it is hard support its proposal to add a 50-cent surcharge to every taxi, Lyft, and Uber ride in the city until the agency is reformed. Many cities are adopting such surcharges in order to fund transit or infrastructure improvements.
The proposal, introduced last week by PPA executive director Scott Petri, would replace the current 1.4 percent tax that brought in $1.8 million in the first half of 2017. PPA thinks the tax is too difficult to collect and argues the surcharge could raise $13.5 million a year.
If you think the School District will ever see that revenue, the PPA has a fleet of clean and modern taxis it can sell you.
When the state took over the parking authority in 2001, it promised $45 million a year for the schools. The agency’s performance has consistently fallen short and schools have never gotten more than a fraction of what was promised.
A recent audit by state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale covering the years 2012-2017 found the PPA had misspent thousands of dollars on excessive raises for senior-level managers, credits for paid leave, and perks such as golf outings, local dances, and gift cards for employees.
During that time, the agency failed to collect $108 million in tickets and fees, much of which could have gone to support the city schools. In all, according to DePasquale, the schools have missed out on nearly $78 million since 2012.
This is the PPA’s M.O. — promise more for the schools in order to get rate hikes and other initiatives approved, and then fail to deliver what was promised, claiming unanticipated expenses. In 2016, for example, the PPA was grilled by City Council to explain why a 50-cents-per-hour parking rate increase, which was supposed to bring in $7.5 million extra for the district, ended up delivering a cut to district funding for that year. The PPA always has an excuse or reason: rising pension costs and lost parking revenue were blamed for that year’s bad performance.
But the real reasons are the high cost of inefficiency, ethical rot, and corruption that has marked the agency for years.
PPA’s former chief, Vincent J. Fenerty Jr., resigned in 2016 amid a sexual harassment scandal. The Parking Authority board was aware of Fenerty’s sexual harassment but looked the other way until it was reported by the Inquirer.
Fenerty’s salary was an obscene $223,000 a year – more than Mayor Kenney makes. The audit found Fenerty doled out excessive raises of 19 percent over 28 months to 30 senior managers. After resigning, Fenerty dubiously pocketed $227,238 for unused vacation, administrative leave, and comp time. He continues to receive an annual pension of $158,628, plus free health insurance.
Now that control of the schools is returning to the city, so should the PPA. The useless board and its overpaid executive staff should be eliminated. The ticket-writing functions could become a division within the Police Department and the city parking garages could be run by the Streets Department.
Until the PPA is reformed, any new revenue stream like Uber surcharges should go directly into a city-controlled account to make sure the schools get their share. For once.