Philadelphians Can Be Divided Into Two Categories: Suckers or Deadbeats

One thing we're not: angry enough.

“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.” Howard Beale, a fictional TV anchor in the movie Network, led Americans in that brilliant battle cry. I thought of Howard Beale when I read the Philadelphia Inquirer story about the $515 million in delinquent property taxes the city is owed and refuses to collect. It is a story that should make you mad as hell, if you are like me—a property owner in Philadelphia who pays his taxes. It is a story that should appropriately be followed by mobs gathering outside of City Hall with torches and pitch forks.

Mayor Nutter has hit us with two “temporary” property tax hikes over the past two years to get the city through a budget crisis. It turns out, more than 100,000 property owners never paid that increase or any property taxes for that matter. In fact, a large portion of them have not paid taxes for more than 15 years with no repercussions. The rest of us are fools for paying our taxes.

Now to add insult to injury, the Mayor says he needs to raise another $94 million for the schools through new property value assessments. Council has appropriately balked at that proposal and is only willing to make property owners pay about half that amount. So instead of screwing you a lot, Council is only willing to screw you a little. Of course, that’s only if you are one of the suckers who actually pay his or her property taxes.

The message to council from the residents of America’s most heavily taxed city should be loud and clear: not one more dime until you collect from the deadbeats.

I’m not just talking about the $515.4 million in delinquent property taxes, but the $50 million in unpaid EMS bills, the $70 million in unpaid fines and fees on things like trash, sanitation and false burglar alarms, and more overdue fees for city services. It comes to a total of $640 million in uncollected funds. If just 15 percent of that money was collected, it would give the school district the $94 million it needs this year without burdening the city’s honest taxpayers.

This is your moment Philadelphia. If you don’t get all Howard Beale about this, you deserve the tax bill you get. I am, of course, addressing the people who actually pay their tax bills. For the homeowners and businesses that don’t pay their taxes, fines and fees—the smart people—the bill won’t matter because they won’t pay them. They and the city are counting on the rest of us, the fools, to carry them. Mad as hell yet?