Mayor Michael Nutter recently published a revised list of tax delinquents, some of whom owe the city more than $1 million dollars. The staggering amount of back taxes owed, and the people and companies who owe them, show that high tax rates are not the only disgrace when it comes to Philadelphia taxes.
The celebrity mainstays were on the list, including former mayor John Street’s brother, T. Milton Street, and restaurateur Neil Stein, who owes more than $1.2 million.
Others on the list stand out as well. There is Blair Christian Academy and Child Care Services, which describes itself on phila.gov’s services pages as providing “excellent academic education within the context of a consistent Christian world and life view.” Owing $240,000 in taxes doesn’t sound like giving unto Caesar what is his.
Another on the list is Jeffrey M. Seiken. Seiken owes more than $300,000 in taxes to the city, according to the latest list. Yet, Seiken contributed almost $2,000 to LAWPAC, a state trial lawyers’ political action committee, in the last nine years.
It is absolutely Seiken’s right to contribute to a PAC, just as it is anyone else’s. However, it is his duty to pay his taxes, and when he chooses to support political organizations instead of helping to pay off his taxes, he may as well be flaunting his lack of payment at the city.
What is striking about Seiken and the other people and companies mentioned thus far in this article is that all of them were on the first list that Nutter put out in November. That means they have not paid their taxes, or even tried to. If they did, they would be on a payment plan, which gets them removed from the list.
Nutter and the city are right to start taking delinquents’ properties, especially if they show up on the list for a second time. Especially in a poor economy, there shouldn’t be any leniency for people who want to avoid taxes. Not pursuing tax delinquents only hurts Philadelphia.
As in many cities, people like to complain about taxes in Philadelphia. They are said to be too high, unfair and destroying economic development. This may be true to some extent, but those millions in unpaid taxes could be doing a lot for Philadelphia. Helping to keep libraries open, for one.
Nutter may have angered Philadelphians when he brought up the library closures, but the mayor has to be commended for not letting tax evaders get away with shirking their duties to the city.
The majority of Philadelphia taxpayers do just that: pay their taxes. But those who choose to avoid paying out of greed or lack of diligence need to know they are only welcome in the city so long as they pay their dues to it.
Stephen Zook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.