Welcome to Chump City

Posted: June 27, 2014

GOOD MORNING, fellow chumps.

Do you pay your taxes? Chump.

Do you support bake sales and fundraisers to help our perpetually underfunded schools? Chump.

Do you applaud when legislators holding golden shovels hail revitalization projects that will change everything? Chump.

Do you buy, for one stinking second, that Philly's got no money? Chump, chump, chump.

There's plenty of money, it just goes uncollected or is mismanaged or downright stolen. That's a much more direct and honest way of referring to corruption, don't you think?

Meanwhile, we chumps twist ourselves in knots to pay our taxes, to be responsible citizens of our ailing city - to do the right thing. (That sound you hear is raucous laughter from those who don't have to play by chump rules.)

Yesterday's talker of a story came from Sam Wood, a colleague over at Philly.com, who reported that the city's biggest tax deadbeat was none other than SEPTA, which owes the city almost $22 million.

In fairness, public-transit agencies don't usually pay taxes and that doozy of a tax bill apparently resulted from an error in a badly drafted piece of legislation, blah, blah, blah. But under the law as it stands, SEPTA owes that money.

And given that, by law, most of the city's property taxes go to Philly's legitimately underfunded schools, no wonder readers went bonkers at news that SEPTA's tax bill would be wiped clean.

If only SEPTA were the worst of our deadbeats. There are a zillion other examples of worse scofflaws, by actions if not amounts. Take, for instance, the tax-delinquent owners of that decrepit Kensington warehouse that caught fire on April 9, 2012, and killed two firefighters, Robert Neary and Daniel Sweeney. And ticktock on hearing a peep from Richard Basciano, the slimy serial slumlord who owned the Market Street building that collapsed and killed six people last year. And who knows how many more deadbeats are routinely granted permits because, as Technically Philly reported, the city would much sooner see their first chief data officer walk than use 21st-century data sharing.

Kevin Gillen, an economist and senior research consultant at the University of Pennsylvania's Fels Institute, said he didn't see any malfeasance in SEPTA's case.

"As such, this appears to be a case of relatively benign bureaucratic oversight rather than one of deliberate mismanagement or corruption."

That'd be a first because most days it feels as if Philly is built on deliberate mismanagement and corruption.

Between lack of tax collection, gifts to bumbling nonprofits, overtime pension payouts and civil-rights lawsuits, it's no wonder we're in the state we're in - which in case you're wondering is being almost as good at begging for money as pissing it away.

As my colleagues Dana DiFilippo and David Gambacorta reported last month, the city paid out nearly $14 million in settlements last year from civil-rights lawsuits against police. A huge jump from the $8.3 million paid out in 2012, because why get rid of bad cops when you can just pay and pay and pay for their sorry behinds?

And then there was the story of a state legislator's pricey pet project gone nowhere by my cubicle-mate William Bender. The Louise Williams Bishop Retail and Commercial Center is named after the state legislator who was allegedly caught on tape accepting cash from a Philly lobbyist. Other possible center names? The Pizza Pizza Plaza, since the only thing in there is Little Caesars pizza. Or the Super Shady Shopping Center, since that's how the empty corridor feels. The "broke" city kicked in $401,728 for this redevelopment debacle that the nonprofit's executive director, Delano Shane, called "kind of an experiment."

Here's an idea for another experiment. Maybe instead of squeezing students into overcrowded classrooms next year, we could make use of some of that dead space at the sad commercial corridor between 52nd and 63rd streets. Come lunchtime, the kiddos could scoot on over to Little Caesars to get a HOT-N-READY® pepperoni pizza or crazy bread.

When asked for a comment about the project, a staffer in Bishop's district office said, "She's not dealing with it now."

That's the whole point. These architects of absurdity never have to deal with consequences. It's us chumps who have to deal, and pay, for their screwups. Usually with higher taxes, lack of services and quality of life, something that's too often lacking in this city.

Readers responded in force to SEPTA getting a pass on their tax bill. One of the best responses came from Julie Gurner on Twitter: "Lack of consequences fuels bad behavior. The city contributes to its own poverty."

Gurner recently moved out of the city. Want to guess why? Long story short, she was tired of being treated like a chump.


Email: ubinas@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5943

On Twitter: @NotesFromHel

On Facebook: Helen.Ubinas

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