ThinkFest Recap: Jerry Sweeney Says Changing Philly’s Tax Code Will Boost Job Growth

He says his plan to hike the commercial property tax rate will create 50,000 to 100,000 jobs.

Jerry Sweeney at ThinkFest.

Jerry Sweeney at ThinkFest.

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Jerry Sweeney wants big-time changes to Philadelphia’s tax code — and says it will spark much-needed job growth and help the city break its cycle of poverty. If we do nothing, he said, the city is on a path to lose 35,000-40,000 jobs over the next 10 years.

The president of Brandywine Realty Trust, Sweeney is also a leader of the Philadelphia Job Growth Coalition — and he outlined the organization’s plan during a session at ThinkFest 2015.

“With all the great things Philadelphia has going for it, why can we not grow jobs? Why can’t we get more companies to locate downtown?” he said. “We need to match the economic enthusiasm with our cultural, retail and restaurant renaissance.”

He offered these grim stats about Philadelphia:

  • The city has been losing jobs since 1970.
  • It has a higher unemployment rate than the national average.
  • It has one of the highest poverty rates in the country.
  • It has the highest deep poverty rate in the country.
  • Thirty-seven percent of the people who live in city go outside the city to work. That’s the highest percentage in the United States.

But wait, the city seems to be thriving, with people moving downtown and the real estate market growing. But Sweeney said: “This is exactly the moment in time to go on the offensive.”

“Center City and University City aren’t growing fast enough to offset this citywide job decline,” he said. “We have very strong ‘eds and meds’ and hospitality sectors. That keeps us moving through good times and bad times — but we’re losing higher paying jobs.”

Sweeney said that “68 percent of municipal tax revenues come from taxing wages and businesses – by far the highest in the United States.” But Philly has one of the lowest rates of real estate taxes in the country, he added.

“We want to shift the revenue base of the City of Philadelphia to be more real-estate-tax centric and less wage-and-income centric,” he said. His group doesn’t want to increase personal property taxes but is vying to raise the commercial property tax rate to 15 percent, he said.

“We are prepared to pay more in taxes,” he said. “We want to invest in city’s future.”

But if the Philadelphia Job Growth Coalition is going to succeed, it’ll have to wade through some tough waters. Sweeney said the plan would have to be approved by two consecutive legislative sessions in Harrisburg, and need an amendment to the state constitution. Piece of cake.

“We can generate with our plan 50,000 to 100,000 jobs,” he said. “The ripple effect of employment growth cannot be understated.”