Philadelphia’s parking ticket amnesty program was more about forgiveness than recovering $76.8 million in unpaid fines, but if city officials are in such a magnanimous mood why don’t they dig deeper to help the cash poor School District?
The Philadelphia Parking Authority had long lines of people waiting for hours outside its offices last month to clear their records by paying a discounted fine. But the amnesty program brought in less than $3 million, while costing about $2.5 million to carry out.
Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, who vigorously lobbied for the amnesty, said it meant more to her that 22,000 people no longer have to worry about unpaid fines that had lingered for years. “At least we are grateful that we were able to do something to try to help people,” she said.
OK, but put that sentiment in context with how miserably the Parking Authority has failed to meet expectations of the revenue it would share with the School District.
Blame that on a 2004 change in the state law that created the Parking Authority, which voided a stipulation that $45 million of PPA revenue would go to city schools. That requirement was replaced with one that said PPA must give the city $25 million before giving the schools anything.
But that’s not all. PPA executive director Scott Petri says the amended law also requires the city’s percentage to increase every time PPA’s on-street revenue goes up. So in the current fiscal year, PPA expects to send $40 million to the city but only $10 million to its schools.
One easy step Council could take to help the School District avoid an expected $700 million deficit in 2023 is to ask the state to change the PPA revenue-sharing formula.
The 4.1 percent property tax hike Mayor Kenney wants to increase school funding may be necessary too, but given Council’s reluctance he shouldn’t dismiss looking for money elsewhere in the city budget.
Kenney has been one of the schools’ biggest cheerleaders, repeatedly saying the city can’t wait for Harrisburg and Washington to live up to their obligations to adequately fund public education. He should know, as should any Council member, that investing in education pays off more in the long run than almost any other budget item. A well-educated city has less crime and more productivity.
Keep in mind also that it’s not just the predicted deficit in the district’s operating budget that must be addressed. As the recent “Toxic City: Sick Schools” series of articles showed, too many of Philadelphia’s older schools are not only in disrepair, they contain lead and asbestos that pose a health risk to children.
Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. says the district needs to spend $150 million on repairs to its 300 buildings. Those funds would be in addition to the district’s $3.2 billion operational budget. The district recently borrowed $275 million to fund its five-year capital budget. Now, it needs more.
Council over the next four weeks or so will decide what will be in the next city budget and how to pay for it. Uppermost in its mind should be this city’s children and how to make their schools safer and learning easier.