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Testimony Submission, Committee on Children and Youth

Jerry T. Jordan, President
Testimony Submission, Committee on Children and Youth
Resolution 210034

March 3, 2021

On behalf of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, I am pleased to offer written testimony in support of Payments In Lieu of Taxes (PILOTS) in the City of Philadelphia.

It is truly unconscionable that in 2021, we continue to have to fight so hard for the bare minimum for our young people and educators.

To have massive nonprofits existing tax-free in our city while we’re simultaneously navigating a facilities crisis that has had life-threatening impacts on our communities is simply unconscionable. This is not just a Philadelphia issue. A 2018 Good Jobs First report noted:

Public schools across the country lost at least $1.8 billion last year as a result of economic development tax incentives granted to corporations. School districts in ten states, led by South Carolina, New York and Louisiana, collectively lost $1.6 billion. If this money were instead reinvested in hiring new teachers and reducing class size, these ten states alone could add more than 28,000 teachers

You are well aware of the impact this crisis has had on Philadelphia’s young people and educators. Decades of neglect that led SEIU worker Chris Trakimas to lose his life after a boiler explosion at FS Edmonds. Decades of neglect that lead then first grader Dean Pagan to suffer lead poisoning after eating lead paint chips from his desk. Decades of neglect that led to a devastating mesothelioma diagnosis for PFT member Lea DiRusso, who spent her career teaching in buildings with known, damaged asbestos. Decades of neglect that led Chelsea Mungo, then a fourth grader at Cassidy Elementary, to write to her State Senator and ask why the color of her skin impacted how her school is funded, and shared with him that she feels like she is in prison or a junkyard when she is in what is supposed to be a sacred place of learning.

Our national union, the American Federation of Teachers, shares a number of measures that can be implemented in order to stave off more devastating austerity in the wake of COVID19. They point to PILOTS as an important example of one such measure, noting:

Large non-profit private universities and hospital systems are sitting on billions of dollars in net assets, often awarding their executive officers millions of dollars in compensation, but because of their non-profit status, they are exempt from paying property taxes even though they rely heavily on local public schools, transportation, and public safety services. Some municipalities have asked nonprofit entities to enter into voluntary agreements to make payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs) in order to contribute to community costs. However, because these payments are voluntary, non-profits often fail to make promised payments. In Boston, for example, nonprofit institutions have failed to pay over $77 million in promised payments under the PILOT program.

In New Jersey, some municipalities have begun to challenge the tax-exempt status of hospitals that they say are failing to meet the legal definition of tax exempt. Under the terms of one settlement, a health system was required to pay an annual “community service contribution” to support public health initiatives. States should review nonprofit tax exemptions to determine whether these entities are living up to their missions, and whether they can do more to support public services. [Full document attached]

The PFT founded the Fund Our Facilities Coalition in order to identify and develop real, workable solutions to this crisis. And we know what we need to make these urgent repairs: funding.

Our Coalition is calling for an immediate investment of $200 Million to remediate the most pressing environmental concerns within more than 225 School District of Philadelphia buildings.

For $200 Million, we could address the following critical areas of need:

  • More school cleaning and maintenance staff
  • Rodent & pest control; asthma control
  • Accelerated & expanded lead paint and asbestos stabilization
  • Repair of water leaks
  • Electrical & lighting upgrades
  • Bathroom upgrades
  • Window replacement
  • NEW, January 2021: COVID related response and upgrades (including air quality)
  • Improved strategic planning, data management, collaboration, and quality control efforts

PILOTS in Philadelphia would go a long way in helping us meet that goal. I commend members of Council for conducting this important hearing, and I urge all members of Council to support the implementation of PILOTS as a critical step forward in ensuring that our young people have access to the school facilities to which they are so morally, and constitutionally, entitled.



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