by Anthony Hennen
Philadelphia has one of the worst city tax burdens in America, and voters aren’t pleased. It will also be a struggle for city leaders to find a politically popular solution.
A poll from the Pew Charitable Trusts found that Philadelphians have become more opposed to taxes, but an anti-tax revolt isn’t brewing in the city either.
“Philadelphians expressed strong opposition to raising property taxes and shared the views that wealthy residents do not pay their fair share and that the Philadelphia beverage tax is unfair,” wrote Elinor Haider and Katie Martin of Pew’s Philadelphia Research and Policy Initiative. “However, other questions – such as whether local government should prioritize expanding city services or lower taxes – did not have a clear consensus.”
On fairness, only the city’s local sales tax had a majority of respondents agreeing it was fair (55%). Forty-nine percent agreed the wage tax was fair, 39% said the property tax was fair, and only 35% said the beverage tax was fair.
What residents want, instead, is for the wealthy to pay more taxes in the city. Almost 70% of respondents said wealthy Philadelphians paid less than they should in local taxes – even 61% of those making $100,000 or more a year said the wealthy paid less than they should.
Taxing the wealthy more isn’t something Philadelphia City Council hasn’t tried to do. A wealth tax has been floated by three members of council, but hasn’t gone anywhere. Wealthier residents of the city, however, just might. Critics argue that such a tax would “bring a wholesale departure” from the city. The suburbs of Philadelphia have grown from people and businesses avoiding high income and wage taxes, respectively.
People can move easier than property. But, as the Pew poll noted, property taxes in the city are unpopular.
“Shifting more of the tax burden to property taxes may be wise economically, but it comes at a risk of displeasing voters and displacing low-income homeowners,” Haider and Martin wrote. “Finding the right tax mix may be complicated – though it may be a more realistic goal than finding a mix that will please everyone.”
City voters want lower taxes on themselves and better city services. City Council and Mayor Jim Kenney have worked out a budget deal to offer property tax relief and lower the wage tax, but doing so includes a trade-off between anti-tax sentiments and funding public services.
– – –
Anthony Hennen is a reporter for The Center Square. Previously, he worked for Philadelphia Weekly and the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. He is managing editor of Expatalachians, a journalism project focused on the Appalachian region.