City Council President Darrell Clarke testified on the City’s effort to reform its property-tax system at a Pennsylvania House Democratic Policy Committee hearing at the National Constitution Center on Tuesday.
President Clarke strongly backed the Actual Value Initiative but stressed a good transition to AVI will require a host of extra measures to prevent citizens from being hurt in the process. These measures are included in a package of property tax relief bills that is being introduced by the Philadelphia Delegation.
In the long run, Clarke said the City needs to be able to tax commercial and residential real estate at different rates. This reform will require an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution.
Clarke testified that after reassessment, “The Commercial/Industrial/Hotel and Apartment Sector will see a reduction in property taxes of about $111 million. $100 million of this will be shifted to residential properties and $11 million will be shifted to stores with dwelling units.
“We could offset this shift if we had the authority to tax business property at a different rate than residential property, as is done in many municipalities throughout the country. Similar clauses appear in some form in the constitutions of all but three states, yet in many of those states those clauses have been interpreted to permit what is being proposed under this Constitutional Amendment.”
Clarke stated, “We must be sensitive to the fact some residents will experience substantial or even extraordinary increases in their assessed value.” The Council President said long-term homeowners in rapidly appreciating neighborhoods deserve special consideration. “This legislation grants to Philadelphia what has already been granted to Allegheny Co.: the ability to consider income, age, or a combination thereof when targeting relief for long-term homeowners,” he noted.
One measure will give the City an improved ability to collect property taxes. “This would have a positive effect on our millage rate by increasing our collection factor,” Clarke said. “Currently, the total number of tax-delinquent parcels where two or more are owned by the same person or entity is 39,939. They are owned by 10,588 persons or entities which owe collectively $160 million in taxes, penalties, interest and other charges. This legislation will allow the City to expedite collection by authorizing the City to file liens on all properties in the Commonwealth under common ownership.”
Another provision of the proposed laws will allow homeowners to pay their taxes on an installment plan, making it harder for them to fall behind and slip into foreclosure.
WATERS TO INTRODUCE GUN-CURBING BILLS
State Rep. Ronald G. Waters (D-W. Phila.) plans to hold a news conference the week of Feb. 4 to announce a gun package he will introduce during the legislative session.
Waters, Democratic Caucus secretary, joined other elected officials and hundreds of concerned citizens for a “Day of Action” at the Capitol at which he called on legislators to take action.
“Somehow the conversation has been framed in the context of 2nd Amendment rights, and people are fearful that legislators are aiming to infringe upon those rights,” Waters said. “Let me be the first to say I strongly believe in the 2nd Amendment.
“I think about some of the more rural parts of our state and how isolated some homes are, and I believe that those citizens have the right and should have the means to protect their homes from threats,” Waters said.
Waters series of gun measures include legislation that deals with a military-style assault-weapons ban; carrying firearms without a license; firearm liability insurance; child safety locks; reporting lost or stolen firearms; neighborhood watch groups; and the Castle Doctrine.
Waters said, “We hope to move forward with these sensible steps, but we want to make sure that we do not infringe on 2nd Amendment rights and adversely affect the sporting culture that is so rich throughout the Commonwealth,” he said.
“As far as restrictions go, we only want to focus on military-style assault-weapons, which public opinion seems to agree are dangerous and unnecessary in the hands of civilians.”
REWARD-GIVERS ARE HAPPY TO PAY UP
Councilman Kenyatta Johnson (2nd Dist.) – joined by Philadelphia Police Homicide Capt. James Clark; Jeffrey Braff, President of Center City Residents’ Association (CCRA); and Andrew Dalzall, of South of South Neighborhood Association – were pleased their posting a $15,000 reward for information in the horrific slaying of Melissa Ketunuti, a promising young doctor at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, helped lead to her suspected killer.
The $15,000 reward, administered by the Philadelphia Citizens Crime Commission, was contributed by the following: Councilman Johnson ($4,000); The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia ($2,500); University of Pennsylvania ($2,500); Penn Medicine ($2,500); Jeffrey Brown, owner of Brown’s ShopRite ($1,250); Larry Collins, owner of Collins ShopRite ($1,250); and Joseph Zuritsky, Chairman/CEO of Parkway Corp. ($1,000).
CITY REPS PUSH CHILD SEX-ABUSE LAWS
State Reps. Louise Williams Bishop (D-W. Phila.) and Mike McGeehan (D-Northeast) are pushing additional legislation to increase penalties for child sex-abusers. Bishop’s bill would abolish the statute of limitations on criminal charges and civil lawsuits in cases of child sexual abuse. McGeehan’s would provide child sex-abuse victims a two-year window of opportunity to file civil charges if the statute of limitations on the child sex crime committed against them has run out.
Signing on was State Rep. Cherelle Parker (D-Northwest), a long-time advocate of victims’ rights. Last year Gov. Tom Corbett signed her legislation to provide juries with context in cases of sexual assault into law.
SIMS URGES SUPPORT FOR ANTI-BULLYING BILL
State Rep. Brian Sims (D-S. Phila.) has sent an email to all of his House Democratic colleagues urging them to co-sponsor the proposed Pennsylvania Safe Schools Act (HB 156), reintroduced by State Rep. Dan Truitt (R-Chester), an anti-bullying bill that would protect Pennsylvania students.
Sims told his colleagues, “As many of you can imagine, as a member of the LGBT community myself, such measures are something that I am particularly attuned to. The fact remains that young members of the LGBT community (or those perceived to be) are bullied and otherwise discriminated against at alarming rates.”
GREENLEE INTRODUCES EARNED SICK-LEAVE BILL
Councilman at Large Bill Greenlee was joined by Council President Darrell L. Clarke, Liz McElroy of the Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO and Janet Filante from Childspace Cooperative Development, Inc., to detail contents of his Promoting Healthy Families & Workplaces which he introduced into Council last Thursday.
He indicated approximately two out of five workers in Philadelphia do not have earned sick leave, putting them at risk of wage and job loss. Approximately 38,600 health-care workers and 36,300 restaurant and hotel workers in Philadelphia do not have earned sick leave.
“Low-income workers are the ones who are often forced to choose between staying home to care for themselves or their sick children, or losing a day’s pay,” said Greenlee, flanked by workers, small-business owners and public-health advocates. “Under this bill, they no longer have to choose.”
Co-sponsors of the bill are Council Members Cindy Bass (8th Dist.), Councilman at Large W. Wilson Goode, Jr., Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr. (4th Dist.), Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez (7th Dist.) and Councilwoman Marian Tasco (9th Dist.).
An earlier version of Earned Sick Leave for workers legislation was approved by City Council but vetoed by Mayor Michael Nutter in 2011.
Pat Eiding, president of the Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO, noted in the midst of a severe flu season, earned sick leave is also sound public-health policy.
Nearly 75,000 Philadelphians are employed in the health-care, restaurant and hospitality industries. While those sectors are widely credited with the City’s economic growth in recent years, many of those workers have little to no wage or job protection when they become ill.
COUNCIL’S GREEN, BROWN SEEK EQUITY IN TAX POLICIES
Councilman Bill Green has introduced legislation that would give direction to the City Dept. of Revenue to collect taxes due from a nonprofit as allowed under state law if that nonprofit is engaging in commercial activity outside of their charitable, religious or educational mission.
He noted many of Philadelphia’s tax-exempt nonprofit institutions have grown, expanded and morphed into complicated, multifaceted organizations and in some cases the nature of their activities has expanded beyond their traditional, nonprofit mission.
“The importance of nonprofit institutions to the City cannot be overstated,” the Councilman said. “They increase quality of life and provide essential services and jobs. But everybody must participate to their fair share. If they are engaging in commercial activity outside their nonprofit mission, we have a fiduciary obligation to the taxpayers of Philadelphia to treat them the same way we treat others engaging in similar activities.”
The Councilman’s bill would change the definition of a “Business” under the Business Income & Receipts tax to exclude from taxation any business conducted by a nonprofit corporation “other than commercial activity that does not directly serve and is not directly connected with the corporation or association’s religious, charitable or educational purposes.”
Councilwoman at Large Blondell Reynolds Brown has introduced a resolution calling for hearings on the issue of charitable exemptions from property taxes.
Currently, organizations with charitable exemptions, own 10.8% of total assessed value of properties in the City of Philadelphia and that number continues to grow as nonprofit organizations acquire more land. According to a study by the Philadelphia Inquirer and Plan Philly, $528 million in property taxes were not collected due to charitable exemptions.
“Philadelphia has been faced with the same ‘economic déjà vu’ for decades,” said the Councilwoman. “Our wage and corporate tax rates discourage businesses from coming to Philadelphia, or worse, encourage them to take jobs out of our city. We know jobs are the key to lowering our 25% poverty rate. Therefore, for three years in a row, our remaining option on the table has been property taxes. The issue is not that our property owners have not stepped up to the plate. We cannot continue to ask property owners for increased sacrifice, when we have tax-exempt, nonprofit institutions with profit margins that rival major corporations.”
A charitable exemption status is granted when an organization passes the “HUP Test,” based on a 1985 Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision (Hospital Utilization Project vs. Commonwealth).
YOUNGBLOOD SEEKS TO RENAME MOUNTAIN
State Rep. Rosita C. Youngblood (D-Northwest) is urging Gov. Tom Corbett to rename Negro Mountain in Somerset Co., Pa.
Youngblood said Negro Mountain, a 30-mile-long ridge of the Allegheny Mountains that spans from Maryland north into Somerset County, took its name from a battle atop the mountain during the French and Indian War. In 1756, a battle broke out between Native Americans and volunteers, including British-born pioneer Thomas Cresap. History books report that a slave by the name of Nemesis was mortally wounded during the battle, and instead of taking shelter, he told the remaining members of his party to leave, bravely sacrificing himself so the others could retreat to safety.
All historical accounts state Negro Mountain took its name from this battle, notably from the heroism of the “Negro” Nemesis who gave his life to protect the other volunteers. Youngblood said it is time for Pennsylvania to give Nemesis the respect and recognition he deserves.
“Government officials should take steps to rename the mountain for the man, not the race of the man, who saved the lives of so many,” Youngblood said. “Nobody questions that Nemesis was a brave man, and the intent of naming Negro Mountain was to honor his sacrifice. But we live in different times where we must recognize the person, not label them by the color of their skin.”