Philadelphians, Suburbanites Are Ripping You Off

Higher consumption taxes for suburb dwellers like me, and a lower income tax for you, would solve the city's financial problems.

Philadelphians, you are being ripped off. No, not by the government. Nor the parking authority. Nor even the overpriced coffee shop on the corner. You’re being ripped off by none other than me. And my friends. And my neighbors. And it’s time you did something about it.

That’s because the people I know are ripping you off pretty much every weekend (and many weeknights, too). Don’t believe me? Take a look at center city’s streets on a Saturday night. Or the squares on a Sunday afternoon. Go to an Eagles or Phillies game. Ride up and down Kelly Drive. There are lots of Philadelphia residents there, of course. But there are also lots of non-Philadelphians. There are families from New Jersey, tourists from Chicago, and empty-nesters from Lower Merion. We’re all going into town. It’s fun. It’s safe. It’s inviting. We’re using your restaurants and taking advantage of your entertainment. But we’re not paying our fair share. And that’s why you’re getting ripped off.

We’re clogging your streets. We’re taking advantage of your utilities, your police force, your fire department. We’re riding your public transportation and leaving our litter in your trashcans. We pay for our meals, our hotels, our theatre tickets. And that’s good for the local business people and for the local economy in general. But it ends when we go back to our fenced-in homes with our filled bellies and pleasant memories where we enjoy our green lawns, our solvent school systems, our security, our wide streets. We had fun in your city, so thanks. But we never paid the full amount for the city services we used. You are. You’re paying for us. You’re being ripped off.

Meanwhile, your city is fighting for every penny. Begging the state for more taxes on cigarettes. Pleading for more money to pay for its schools, its pensions, its infrastructure. And yet the money is there. It’s in the pockets of every person who visits and enjoys your city.

Would it stop my friends and me from coming into town if more consumption-based taxes were to increase? If I had to pay an extra 1.5% for dinner or a hotel room? Or a few more dollars for a theatre or Eagles ticket? Business owners, restaurateurs, theatre owners: Relax. We’ll still come. The extra few bucks are not going to stop us. You’re still offering better choices and a better atmosphere. Would I walk from my home because parking cost an extra dollar or two? No, I’ll still park. If I were a smoker, would I stop because of an extra amount charged for a pack of cigarettes? (If I were a smoker, then I’d be an idiot for doing something so harmful to my health, so paying an extra buck or two won’t stop me either.) In the future, if I want to get high, would it be so harmful to purchase recreational marijuana in the city, just like I can in Denver? (For the record, I haven’t yet, but I’ll be there on a business trip next month, so watch out!).

Consumption taxes should be raised in Philadelphia. But hold on, fellow right-of-center Republicans. I’m not abandoning you.

I hate taxes every bit as much as you do. So, a little tweak is needed. I wouldn’t want to penalize those people living in the city. In fact, I would want to attract more residents to Center City … there are a lot of rental units to fill, for God’s sake. So city residents should be entitled to a drop in their annual income tax. And if we’re going to change the tax structure and ask for those who consume to pay more for the privilege, let’s not leave it there. Let’s also combine with this a reasonable cut in pension payments to city or school workers who are over a certain income level. Happy now, fellow conservatives? I’d be. The people using and benefiting from the city are paying their fair share, and the people who are receiving more benefits than they need from the city are getting a little bit less. And if the math is done right, the city should see a significant net gain.

With a lower city income tax, more people are encouraged to move into Center City. With more residents, there is more life, more pride, more activity, more fun, more demand for products and services, more attraction for tourists and suburbanites to be part of it. To take advantage of this added fun those tourists and suburbanites pay a higher fee for the fun stuff, like food and entertainment (and parking, too) and we can afford it. Residents get a break on their income taxes. The right wingers like me are happier because we’re also seeing something being done about the city’s high pension obligations. The left wingers can grumble about this but accept that it will not affect those in need.

Or there’s the alternative: Philadelphians can keep the system the same. Begging. Pleading. Praying. A broken budget. A broken school system. Either way, I’m fine with that. I’ll just enjoy the benefits of your downtown and then scamper on home to my nice neighborhood by midnight. You can pay for the rest.

Follow @GeneMarks on Twitter.