Candidate Blogging: Tom Wyatt on Growing Our Way Out of Poverty Through Property Tax and Business Tax Reform

Author: Thomas Wyatt

When we talk about Philadelphia now, there’s optimism. At the same time, our schools are desperately under-resourced, with a graduation rate just under 65% and our unemployment rate is well above the national average. If you’re Black or Latino, you’re twice as unlikely to find a job.

To break the cycle of poverty, we need good jobs. To get good jobs, we need great schools. And in Philadelphia, to get great schools in our communities, we start with fully funding them.

I commend my fellow City Council candidates and education advocates for calling on the state to institute a fair funding solution that puts the needs of our students first. This is essential to setting up a system that educates all children, regardless of their geography or family income.

But it’s not enough.Until Harrisburg puts up its fair share to better fund our schools, we need more money coming in from a stronger business climate.

Each day, over 200,000 Philadelphians get up, brew their coffee, and go to work just outside of our city limits. Part of the problem is our tax system, which drives businesses away the moment they become profitable. It means we are continually whittling down our funding sources, and our schools and working families are paying the price of this migration.

One of the most egregious examples of this is the Business Income and Receipts Tax (or BIRT), which essentially taxes small business owners twice.

Imagine, for a moment, you own a pizza shop in Northeast Philly. You close at the end of the day, having sold $1,000 worth of pizzas. Before you can take that money out of the register, it’s taxed once-- this is the Gross Receipts tax.

Then, after you’ve paid for ingredients, supplies, rent, and a living wage to your staff, you’re left with a small profit-- and are taxed again. Instead of taking this to reinvest in hiring or grow your business, you’re facing a second tax on the same money—this time at 6.4%.

Philadelphia is unique in its tax burden on owners, and especially for small business owners who usually have small margins. This directly impacts their ability to grow and expand here, leading many to move just outside of the city, where they face a more favorable climate.

My Bringing Jobs Back plan calls for growing our tax base by gradually phasing out the Business Income and Receipts (BIRT) Tax, making up the difference in the increasing value of commercial real estate and a temporary Gross Receipts tax increase.

The idea is fairly basic:  if Philadelphia is a better place to do business, commercial real estate values will increase— producing a more stable and fairer source of revenue for our schools. It also shifts the burden off of our working families.

Most importantly, it’s a plan Council can actually carry out. While many other Candidates have been quick to suggest action that requires state approval, my Bringing Jobs Back plan is completely within our ability to do now.

This isn't something I've invented from scratch; others before me have advanced similar plans. Now is different. Now, we have a clear and urgent need for increased revenue that will drive legislative will-- and we have proof.

My plan is not only based on two blue ribbon commissions in Philadelphia, but is already being carried out in other cities. Both New York and D.C. have changed their tax balance to fixed assets, like property taxes, and their economies are booming. On the other hand, our current tax structure puts us in the same category as Detroit, and is leading us down the same path.

We need creative solutions that set up a system that re-invests in our city’s schools without putting the ever-increasing burden on our working families, a quarter of whom are living in poverty. We need stable revenue, so that we can escape the cycle of funding crises and stopgap measures. And most importantly, we need something that we can do now-- something that is entirely within our control to enact.

My Bringing Jobs Back plan sets Philadelphia on a more sustainable path,  encouraging the creation of new jobs and raising more revenue for our schools.

We have a lot of folks running, but I’m the only one in this City Council race with experience as a teacher in the classroom, as a business person in the boardroom, and as an advocate at the neighborhood level.

Now, I’m the only one with a real, actionable plan to Bring Jobs Back and Boost Our Schools.


Tom Wyatt is a candidate for Council At-Large seat in Philadelphia’s City Council. Election Day is May 19th. Button #88 Thomas Wyatt on your ballot.


The 5th Square has endorsed Tom Wyatt in the Philadelphia City Council At Large race. Read the responses to Tom's 5th Square Candidate Questionnaire here.

Tom Wyatt - (D) Council At large Candidate Questionnaire