PEOPLES’ HEARING RALLIES GRASSROOTS SUPPORT FOR PHILLY WEALTH TAX AND CALLS FOR DEEP INVESTMENTS IN CITY SERVICES

In Council News, Helen Gym, Jamie Gauthier, Kendra Brooks, News by PHL Council

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Over 150 union members, community leaders, and residents gathered in favor of taxing the ultra-rich and investing in working class communities

Philadelphia – Yesterday, outside of City Hall, the Tax the Rich PHL coalition and Councilmember Kendra Brooks (At-Large) hosted a People’s Hearing on the Philly Wealth Tax bill and amplified calls to tax the rich at the federal, state and local levels. The diverse group of speakers highlighted the need for local leaders to reject austerity approaches to City funding and trickle-down economics, which have resulted in unprecedented rates of income inequality and a growing racial wealth gap. Instead, the groups called for taxing the rich and using that funding to make targeted investments in working class communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and faced decades of underfunding, housing discrimination, and gentrification.

Councilmember Kendra Brooks’ bill, which was introduced in April 2022, would levy a 0.4% tax on stocks and bonds, excluding retirement accounts, and raise 70% of its revenue from the top 5% of Philadelphians, by income. The PA Budget and Policy Center estimates that the tax could raise over $200 million a year in annual City revenue, which could then be invested in City services that would support working families in neighborhoods that have faced the most disinvestment, such as recreation centers, libraries, summer camp and after-school programs for young people, job training initiatives, mental health mobile crisis units and more. The People’s Hearing comes after the postponement of a number of City Council hearings, including one scheduled for September 21 on the Wealth Tax, due to recent resignations from City Council.

“Philadelphia already has everything that we need to build the city of our dreams. It’s just a matter of political courage, determination, and investment,” said Councilmember Kendra Brooks. “If we stopped cutting taxes for the ultra-rich, giving handouts to big businesses, and instead invested in the communities that have been pushed aside for years, we could heal generations of disinvestment. In order to alleviate poverty, address gun violence, and build strong neighborhoods we need to stop waiting for wealth to trickle down and start putting people before profit. My constituents deserve a city where everyone pays their fair share and where future generations can live, grow, and thrive.”

Brooks was also joined by Councilmember Jamie Gauthier (3rd District), a co-sponsor of the bill, who reaffirmed her support for the Philly Wealth Tax.

“We need the resources that a wealth tax would generate,” said Councilmember Jamie Gauthier. “We are not asking for charity or a handout. This is what Black and Brown and working class Philadelphians are owed. The reason we are owed that is because Philadelphia like many cities across the nation has a long history of redlining and disinvestment. The problems in our communities are a direct result of these racist policies that allowed some to thrive while others were left behind. And now we’re seeing the consequences of cheating the working class and people of color out of building familial wealth for generations. It’s past time for the ultra-wealthy to pay their fair share – so we can fund the community resources and city services that our neighborhoods deserve, and bring prosperity and dignity to working class communities.”

In addition to the Philly Wealth Tax, the hearing elevated a range of progressive campaigns that would more evenly distribute the tax burden in Philadelphia and bring in more revenue for public schools and City services. Speakers highlighted the need to end the ten year tax abatement, which incentivizes gentrification and primarily benefits wealthy homeowners and private developers while depriving public schools of tens of millions of dollars in annual funding. Others demanded that mega-nonprofits and wealthy institutions such as the University of Pennsylvania and Jefferson make Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOTS), as other universities have in a number of cities across the country. Speakers also recognized that Philadelphia alone cannot shoulder the responsibility of addressing the uneven tax structure, amplifying calls on Congress to raise the tax rate on ultra-rich millionaires and billionaires and for the PA General Assembly to pursue similar taxes on the wealthiest residents of the state.

Unions and worker-led organizations demonstrated firm support for the Philly Wealth Tax at the People’s Hearing with AFSCME District Council 47, SEIU 32BJ District 1201, AFSCME District Council 33, the Faculty Union of the Community College of Philadelphia AFT Local 2026, and One Pennsylvania  all represented. Labor leaders drew from firsthand experience and spoke about the impacts of budget cuts, staffing shortages, and inadequate City services in their workplaces, emphasizing the need to fully fund City departments so that they can properly do their jobs.

“I am a counselor at CCP, as well as a proud Community College graduate. I was given the gift of graduating debt free, but now the average CCP student graduates with over $10,000 in debt, said Elisa King, member of AFT Local 2026 and the Tax the Rich PHL coalition. “The City of Philadelphia has underpaid what they owe to CCP for years – because our city refuses to demand the rich pay what they owe. Wealthy people and institutions are not paying their fair share, and that is why my students are graduating with debt.”

“For too long, Philadelphia has passed legislation which has provided tax breaks, tax loopholes and rescinded taxes which allowed very wealthy residents of the city of Philadelphia to avoid paying their fair share,” said Cathy Scott, President of AFSCME District Council 47.

“The people in power need to tax the people who are rich, the people who are sitting in luxury buildings have to pay their fair share, so that working people can live an adequate life,” said Antione Little, member of AFSCME District Council 33. “Every person who lives in the city of Philadelphia and across this country deserves a fair education, deserves to be able to put food on their table, deserves to have the lights on without worrying if someone will evict them. Today we are here to say, tax the rich!”

“When the school district faces a budget deficit, our members contribute money from our paychecks,” said John Bynum, member of SEIU 32BJ, Local 1201. “Meanwhile, Philadelphia billionaires continue to watch their wealth grow, hundreds of millions of dollars every year, while they refuse to pay their fair share for public services. Wealth inequality will only continue to grow if we do not put a stop to it – and our Black and Brown communities will suffer more and more as the rich get richer. We cannot accept the status quo.”

“In the past few decades, we’ve all witnessed the greatest redistribution of wealth from the bottom to the top,” said Howard Fisher, organizer with the worker-led group One Pennsylvania . “Corporate greed has been eroding our democracy. These same rich people, people like billionaire Jeffrey Yass,  have been pouring money into campaigns to prop up election deniers – and to continue to cut taxes to the ultra-rich. As a result Black and brown people have had their standard of living fall while the rich got richer.”

Additional organizations speaking and present included PA Budget and Policy Center, ACRE, Our City Our Schools coalition, PA Working Families, Reclaim Philadelphia, Sunrise Movement, 215 People’s Alliance and others.

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