IF PHILADELPHIA Parking Authority officials think they can throw a slab of red meat to the barking dogs and make them back off, they may have another thing coming.
The most recent piece of sirloin:
The PPA on Monday agreed to give $25 million to the city and $1.25 million to the school district for the 2008 budget year. In 2009, the school district's take will be $1.75 million while the city's remains the same. This agreement was forged with the help of Rep. Dwight Evans and Mayor-elect Michael Nutter.
There have been other chunks as well:
The PPA imposed salary reductions for top executives, redeployed SUVs that had been driven by the authority's executives and will not be filling some staff vacancies.
These steps came about only after reports in the Daily News and the Inquirer questioned the Parking Authority's spending practices and its enormous growth. In addition, the activist group Parents United for Public Education and other groups that advocate on behalf of children's issues caused a stink when they demanded that the Parking Authority make good on promises to give money to the cash-strapped district.
So have the dogs backed off?
But we need more fiscal hound dogs to sniff around the odoriferous PPA, which seems to find ways to wiggle out of financial responsibilities to everyone but themselves. The city controller's office needs to start its audit of the agency as soon as possible.
And frankly, $1.25 million to the school district is a token payment, especially in comparison to the district's $2.1 billion budget.
But there was a bigger benefit to the request for the Parking Authority payout.
It drew continued attention to the school district's money problems. By highlighting the authority's broken promises to the kids, the protest showed that significant changes must be made to school funding to reflect accountable and reasonable outcomes.
And it got others to buy into the education dilemma. We saw some relatively new names flying the education flag in the Legislature, like Philadelphia Rep. Michael P. McGeehan, who proposed that revenue from the authority's red-light-camera program go to city schools - even though the proposal failed.
The demand that the PPA ante up came at the same time that the the state's recent costing-out report showed that Pennsylvania needs to spend an additional $4.6 billion to adequately educate public-school students. And it showed Philadelphia needs an additional $5,000 per student.
Let's be clear. It's not the Parking Authority's job to fund the school district. But for the PPA to have even been part of the original funding equation shows how crippled the current funding mechanism is.
Questions will continue to be raised about the PPA's finances. But one thing appears to be true: Time has expired at the Philadelphia Parking Authority's business-as-usual parking meter. *