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Opinions mixed on Phila.’s proposed $4 parking-ticket surcharge

A City Council-passed bill that would add $4 to the cost of a parking ticket in Philadelphia has yet to become law because it has been waiting for Mayor Nutter's signature since late June.

A City Council-passed bill that would add $4 to the cost of a parking ticket in Philadelphia has yet to become law because it has been waiting for Mayor Nutter's signature since late June.

Nutter has not yet signaled whether he will sign the legislation, but on Tuesday his spokesman, Mark McDonald, said the city solicitor does not believe it complies with state law on how revenue from the Philadelphia Parking Authority must be allocated.

"The bill would in fact redirect revenue in ways contrary to state law," McDonald said.

The law distributes some revenue to the PPA, some to the city, and the rest to the Philadelphia School District.

The bill designates $2 of the additional revenue for upkeep of the city's parks and recreation centers. The other $2 would go to the Parking Authority to pay for additional enforcement of regulations for taxis and limousines.

The issue of the surcharge was raised by state lawmakers at an informational hearing on the Parking Authority in Harrisburg on Tuesday.

Senate Transportation Committee Chairman John Rafferty (R., Berks-Chester) and other lawmakers questioned the need for an additional fee that would affect out-of-town parking violators.

Rafferty asked authority Executive Director Vincent J. Fenerty Jr. why his constituents, drivers from the suburbs, should have to pay an extra $2 to support taxicabs when they don't use taxicabs.

Deputy Executive Director Rick Dickson said the authority is an "integrated transportation system," that cabs, red light cameras at intersections, and parking enforcement should be considered together and that many people use multiple forms of transportation.

McDonald said that under the City Charter, Council does not have authority to direct spending to a specific program. That responsibility belongs to the executive branch, McDonald said.

Council passed the bill by a 16-1 vote on June 21, with Jannie L. Blackwell the lone dissenter. The mayor must sign or veto the legislation before Council's next session on Sept. 13. If he does not veto it, it becomes law.

In a written opinion, Parking Authority General Counsel Dennis G. Weldon Jr. said he believed the ordinance was legal. State law, he said, allows the city to modify how parking-ticket revenue is divided if the Parking Authority agrees to the change.

City Councilman Mark Squilla, who sponsored the bill, said he counted on the PPA's legal opinion. The legislation also leaves room for the mayor to spend the additional revenue on something other than recreation facilities, as budgeting rules require.

City Controller Alan Butkovitz said he found the bill problematic because the city already suffers from a tendency to tack on taxes and fines willy-nilly. He compared it to towns that use speed traps to raise revenue. "I think all of those issues should be hashed out in the general budget discussion," Butkovitz said. "Parking fines are not a tax, and this converts it into a tax."

Fenerty said the authority needs the additional revenue to beef up its enforcement of illegal cab operators and provide better customer service for the 4,000 registered cabdrivers.

"I don't have enough inspectors to get bogus cabs off the street," Fenerty said. "I'm handcuffed without the funds."

Jim Ney, head of the PPA's taxi and limousine division, said that if the surcharge became law, the PPA believes it will raise about $2 million yearly. The authority would use the money to add staff to better monitor taxis and limousines to limit such illegal practices as overcharging and taking passengers on circuitous routes.

Fenerty said he gave the Council bill "less than 50/50 chance" of becoming law. Without it, he said, the authority would seek funding elsewhere, such as setting aside revenue from the sale of new taxi medallions to help fund enforcement activities. Rafferty said he would like to try to find another way for the authority to pay for enforcement costs but did not offer any specific ideas. "All I can tell you is, it's not coming from the state," he said.