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PPA passes new budget amid protests over School District funding

The PPA's new budget shows an increase in revenue from ride-share companies and a boost in payroll expenses.

Rochelle Nichols-Solomon leads protesters from Pay Up PPA, a group seeking to encourage the Philadelphia Parking Authority to provide more funding for the city's schools.
Rochelle Nichols-Solomon leads protesters from Pay Up PPA, a group seeking to encourage the Philadelphia Parking Authority to provide more funding for the city's schools.Read moreJason Laughlin / Staff (custom credit)

The Philadelphia Parking Authority on Tuesday passed a 2020 budget that gives more than $14 million to the Philadelphia School District and contains a 2 percent increase in payroll costs, but has no increases in fines or fees.

The budget, passed at the authority’s monthly board meeting, anticipates $277.8 million in revenue from April 2019 through March 2020, the budget year. On-street parking violations are expected to generate $56.4 million, of which $14.5 million would go to the schools. That’s about $366,000 more than the PPA is expected to pay the district in the current fiscal year.

The amount for the schools was a source of conflict Tuesday, as dozens of protesters gathered at the PPA’s headquarters at Seventh and Market Streets to insist on more money for the district and to call for the resignation of PPA Board Chairman John Ashdale.

“We have attended every PPA meeting for 15 months,” said Jolley Christman, a member of Pay Up PPA, a group that advocates for a more transparent agency and dedicated school funding. “You have continually turned your back on us, not engaged in dialogue with us. Pay Up PPA calls for your resignation.”

Sources have identified Ashdale as the person who is alleged to have offered a bribe of new windows to City Councilman Bobby Henon’s chief of staff in exchange for help in killing an audit of the PPA in 2016. The allegation was part of the federal corruption indictment involving Electricians Local 98, in which Henon, a union official, was charged with 19 counts. Ashdale has not been charged, and his lawyer has denied that the windows were a bribe. Ashdale declined to comment Tuesday.

>>READ MORE: Sources in Johnny Doc case: PPA board chair Joseph Ashdale bribed councilman to squash agency audit

After the meeting, Scott Petri, the PPA’s chief executive, argued that payments to the School District are limited by state law, which requires the PPA to give the majority of on-street parking revenue to the city before the schools receives any funds. The city will receive $40.8 million in the coming budget year.

The agency cannot do what th e protesters ask and give $25 million to the schools before paying the city, Petri said. “We have to do what’s directed, and we’re going to continue to do that whether these people attend or not.”

Petri is asking the Pennsylvania legislature this year to create a 50-cent surcharge for every ride-share trip taken in Philadelphia, which he said could generate an additional $8 million for the School District.

The PPA budget is broken down into 21 sources of expenses and revenue, which include numerous parking garages and lots around the city and the red light camera program. That revenue projection includes $2.9 million from the division that oversees ride-share companies Uber and Lyft. The number is an approximation, as the taxi and limousine division, which handles ride-share oversight, operates on a different fiscal calendar than the rest of the PPA.

Still, it demonstrates the growth of the ride-share industry in Philadelphia. The 2020 budget projection is more than six times as much as ride sharing generated for the PPA just two years earlier. Taxis, by contrast, are generating just $69,000 more than they did in 2018. The taxi and limousine division revenue goes in part to the School District, and it generated $2.2 million for schools from July to December 2018.

>>READ MORE: Uber revenue error prompts renewed call for new Philly tax on ride-share trips

Critics of the agency, including Pay Up PPA, have labeled it a patronage mill for Republicans in a city dominated by Democrats. In a wiretap of Henon’s 2016 conversation with the person identified as Ashdale, the person allegedly said there would be no jobs available at the PPA if the audit happened.

Petri, who took the top job in 2018, has tried to present a different profile of the PPA. He noted hiring is now done on a point system in which references from political patrons have no worth.

“It does not serve that function, and it hasn’t in a while,” he said.

The PPA payroll is projected to be about $112 million for 1,057 employees, a nearly 2 percent increase over the previous year.