BY MIKE CIBIK, ESQ./ We can all celebrate the announcement Comcast will construct one of the tallest buildings outside New York and Chicago in Philadelphia at a cost of $1.2 billion. Included within this announcement was a commitment made by the City to spend $10 million on infrastructure improvements to subsidize this project.
Why is a global media and technology corporation worth $140 billion insisting that our City, with over a quarter of its residents living in poverty, spend taxpayer money on this project? Isnâ€™t it enough that Comcast will receive a 10-year abatement on property taxes for its building and additional tax credits worth millions for job creation?
In 2012, Target spent $98 million on grants nationwide for education, including the renovation of the library at Lowell ES in Olney. Citibank is spending $41 million to sponsor New York Cityâ€™s bike-sharing program. These corporations show their dedication to social responsibility by giving back to the communities where they make their money.
Comcast, on the other hand, recently spent money to lobby City Council to vote against a proposal to provide paid sick leave for workers in Philadelphia. No one will ever accuse Comcast of misleading the public as to its true intentions â€“ to increase profits on behalf of its shareholders â€“ not anyone who has dealt with its disingenuous pricing strategies and frustrating customer service. Or defend Comcast for engaging in open and free competition in the marketplace after learning of its lobbying activities from City Hall to the halls of Congress.
City Council must vote to approve this commitment of $10 million out of the Capital budget.
We recently witnessed the spectacle of Brooke Lenfest demanding a $33 million tax increment-financing subsidy (TIF) to build his W hotel, which allows him to divert tax dollars to pay off his loans. He stated he would not build it if he did not receive this benefit. Carl Dranoff threatened to cancel his hotel project on South Broad Street when Councilman Wilson Goode, Jr. expressed his doubts as to whether the School District should continue to lose millions in revenue to the tax-abatement program. Will Comcast make the same threats if City Council were to question this subsidy?
It seems as though every month, a water main breaks in Philadelphia, flooding streets and basements. That $10 million could be better spent replacing corroding pipes in our neighborhoods. I hope City Council will actually debate the merits of this latest proposal for corporate welfare, but, to quote Andrew Jackson, â€œthe rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their own selfish purposes.â€
Our city is overtaxed and burdened with underfunded pensions and struggling schools. Comcast needs to step up and be a good corporate citizen of Philadelphia; it can pay for the infrastructure improvements. Ten million dollars is less than 1% of the total cost of this project. Social responsibility is not always a cynical corporate public-relations ploy. Just ask the 3rd graders at Lowell â€“ they have a library with new furniture, iPads and 2,000 new books. A magnanimous gesture expects nothing in return. Comcast needs to do right by our city, and for a change be a giver, not a taker.
Cibik is 5th Ward Republican Leader.