On the night of Aug. 22, the Philadelphia school board made the right choice when it decided to vote no on giving Hilco Redevelopment Partners a tax break on the land it now owns in Grays Ferry. This decision came after students, teachers, and members of the community spoke about why granting this tax break would be a disservice to Philadelphia.
But now, Hilco is getting a second chance in another board meeting Thursday. This second chance must meet the demands of our community — the Philadelphia school board should vote no once again on Hilco’s corporate tax break.
The land in question has a sour history of once being home to the PES oil refinery that exploded in June of last year, and has recently been acquired by Hilco Redevelopment Partners. Similarly, we have seen Hilco acquiring properties in the Little Village section of Chicago and in Jersey City, N.J. Now residents in Chicago, Jersey City, and Philadelphia can unite with the understanding that Hilco is nothing more than a bad neighbor.
While Chicagoans lack legal accountability for Hilco’s promises and Jersey City recovers from an unwarned explosion by Hilco just this July, Philadelphians struggle to secure proper environmental remediation for the land as well as tax payments.
Environmental justice groups like Philly Thrive question Hilco’s commitment to proper remediation in order to safely dispose of the refinery material and not further pollute the air in South and Southwest Philadelphia. Hilco’s past of committing environmental violations and mishandling of dust after explosions leave Philadelphians justifiably worried about the company’s intentions. When the only form of remediation that Hilco promises is tapping harmful materials back into the ground, being critical is required.
Reasons for denying Hilco a corporate tax break under the Keystone Opportunity Zone (KOZ) Act are plentiful compared with Hilco’s shallow excuses to the contrary. Hilco claims that tens of thousands of jobs will be produced, but studies on these types of KOZs report that there is no evidence that they create the economic opportunities that they claim. Concerningly, there is no legal accountability to guarantee that if Hilco received the KOZ tax break it would employ residents of Philadelphia or fulfill the bold claims of employment. The tax break would guarantee $1.25 million annually for the School District in lieu of taxes, but nearby residents have their eye on something better. The money received if Hilco was forced to pay their taxes would go directly to public programs such as schools, recreation centers, libraries, and parks. Unfortunately, some board members expressed wishes to value the immediate economic gain to the district over the long-term sustainability of programs that many in the city rely on.
This time the school board needs to uphold its vote denying Hilco the KOZ designation that it doesn’t need. Hilco is a mega-corporation with billions in assets that does business in 60 countries. They wouldn’t have settled on a location in Philadelphia if they couldn’t afford it.
The bottom line is mega-corporations like Hilco are more than capable and responsible for paying their fair share in taxes. Philadelphians shouldn’t have to make do with the partial payments in lieu of taxes instead.
Here’s how you can help make sure this doesn’t happen: Join Philly Thrive’s Campaign to email and tweet at members of the Philadelphia school board about why Hilco needs to pay its fair share to the Philadelphia community. Write a written testimony or sign up to speak on Sept. 17 at the next board meeting. And, of course, if you’re a member of the board, vote no on the KOZ action item. Your obligation is not to irresponsible moneyed interests like Hilco, but to the students, teachers, families, and members of the Philadelphia community.
Malcolm Miller is a junior at J.R. Masterman High School and is involved with climate and environmental justice groups in Philadelphia.