While President Amy Gutmann feels that “our commitment and what we do for our community is enormous,” paying PILOTs is still not on the agenda for the university, she said.
A new petition by Philadelphia Jobs with Justice, more commonly known as Philly JWJ, has been formed in efforts to get Penn to pay PILOTs, as many students and community members feel that they should. PILOTs are payments by nonprofit organizations that are in lieu of property taxes, from which they are exempt. Philly JWJ has been working closely on the campaign to get Penn to pay PILOTs with the Student Labor Action Project. College students were not involved with the writing of this petition, College sophomore and SLAP member Devan Spear said, but “everything that [Philly JWJ and SLAP] does on this campaign is a joint effort.”
Philly JWJ members have been going door-to-door in West Philadelphia asking people to sign the petition, and Philly JWJ director Gwen Snyder said that “most people are signing it.” In addition to the print petition, there is also an online version on Philly JWJ’s website. Although Snyder believes that “it is legal in [Pennsylvania] to enforce PILOTs” under Pennsylvania law, she does not think PILOTs should be enforced legally. She would prefer that Penn make the payments voluntarily.
In a meeting between President Gutmann and The Daily Pennsylvanian last week, Gutmann said that since Penn is the largest private employer in the city of Philadelphia, its 100 million dollar wage tax that makes up eight percent of city taxes is enough contribution from the University to the city and its schools. Snyder disagreed, saying that the wage tax is “not a cost to Penn, but a cost to the workers.” Furthermore, Spear believes that the wage tax is not justification for Penn to not pay PILOTs, as “it’s the Penn community, not Penn as an institution” that contributes.
SLAP also made its own petition specifically for students, but they have yet to greatly promote it. SLAP tried to meet with Gutmann last semester to discuss the possibility of Penn paying PILOTs, Spear said, but at the last minute, were told they would be meeting with Vice President of the Office of Government and Community Affairs Jeff Cooper and Associate Vice President and Director of the Netter Center Ira Harkavy.
“They were also really helpful to meet with, but it was frustrating that we can’t have access to our University president when we’re trying to make this happen,” Spear said. “We’ve come to understand that the Netter Center and everything that Penn does is a lot for Philadelphia, but we think it would do better if Penn also contributed PILOTs because we don’t think there is a substitution for a well-funded city and well-funded schools.”
Snyder feels that since paying PILOTs would only cost Penn a “miniscule” 0.1% of its budget, there is “no economic reason for why they should not pay money.” With 23 school closures since 2013, Snyder feels that “Philly is in the worst shape of any metro school system in the country,” and if Penn set an example and paid PILOTs, other universities and hospitals may follow.
Philly JWJ and SLAP will continue to work together on this campaign, and SLAP plans to extend its efforts out into the West Philadelphia community.
“It’s a winnable campaign,” Spear said. “Penn could use this as an opportunity if they wanted to.”
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