Stu Bykofsky: City has 100 ways to leave you poorer

Posted: April 06, 2012

WELCOME TO Taxadelphia.

While Mayor Nutter and City Council wrestle over whether adding $90 million to the city's coffers by "reforming" the city property-tax system is actually a tax increase, a flock of other taxes, fees and licenses fly under the radar, sucking up bucks.

There are nearly 100 of them, according to a list prepared at my request by the city controller. (Get the entire list here - pdf.) As they reach their tentacles into our personal and business lives, they drive up the financial and psychological costs of being a Philadelphian. Some shake down the end user; others collar the vendor or owner.

Having no taxes is not an option, because taxes are required to maintain our city. The questions are: How many taxes are needed, and how much do they need to be? Is it fair that some businesses are slammed with personalized levies while others escape unscathed? Is it fair that hardworking Philadelphians are nickeled and dimed to death?

I'm not debating taxes here; I'm just revealing some of the bewildering (see box) city taxes, some referred to as nuisance taxes - but "nuisance" is a weak word. Philly's got fees like dogs got fleas.

Most of us know the taxes with the biggest, sharpest alligator teeth. Like what?

Let's start with the Whopper - the 9.43 percent real-estate tax. Do not confuse it with the 3 percent realty-transfer tax, or the $4.62-per-$100 of assessed-value tax that businesses pay.

If you live in the city, a 3.928 percent bite is taken out of your wages, a trifle less, 3.4985 percent, for nonresidents. Then the school tax takes 3.928 percent of your unearned income, such as from dividends, rent or royalties.

Businesses get bopped with a 6.45 percent business-privilege tax on profits, plus a (one-time) $300 business privilege license. Adding injury to insult, some taxes are owed even if the business made no profit.

In Philadelphia, there's a 20 percent tax to park in a lot or garage, 20 percent for valet parking. The garage or parking-lot owner pays for a $25 license fee plus $2.50 for each vehicle space. We have a 2 percent tax on sales, 2 percent on rented vehicles, 5 percent on amusements, 8.2 percent on hotels, 10 percent on liquor. This stuff adds up, but at least there's no sidewalk-use tax. (Yet.)

For licenses, it's $250 for an auto-wrecking yard, $75 per tow truck, $300 for food preparation and service, $75 for a dry cleaners, but only $45 for dealing in precious metals. (For complete list, go to philly.com.)

The city charges $10 each for fewer than 50 newspaper honor boxes, $300 for a pushcart, $250 for up to five electronic scanners, such as in CVS and Acme. Why? Why not tax store shelves, too? (Maybe next year.)

Scales are taxed, promoters are taxed, Dumpsters are taxed, billboards, condo owners, sidewalk caf├ęs . . .

The list is staggering.

Taxes often last longer than a mother's love, but recently removed (free at last, free at last!) were taxes, fees and licenses on circuses, food-vending machines, beauty and barber shops, massage parlors, pool halls, self-service laundry and laser shows. Why did they escape the taxman? Good lobbyists, I guess.

Never implemented was an idea floated not long ago by the Prisons Commissioner to charge criminals when they are sent to jail. Like a greens fee?

Finally, a gun permit is $20, a license for an unaltered dog is $40, a marriage license is $80.

I've had all three. I never regretted the money I spent on my gun.

Or my dog.


Email stubyko@phillynews.com or call 215-854-5977. See Stu on Facebook. For recent columns:

www.philly.com/Byko.

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