Yesterday morning on my very short commute to work I was listening to Chris Stigall on 1210 WPHT. He mentioned this article in Philly Mag by Gene Marks. I wasn’t in the car long enough to hear Stigall’s opinion, but he made me want to find the article, so I did. In the article Gene Marks makes the case that the suburbanites who have their nice cushy homes outside the city limits go into the city to use the restaurants, theaters, sports venues, roads, police, fire departments, etc. and don’t pay their “fair share” (Marks does say he is one of suburbanites ripping off the city). He argues that the city should lower their income tax and increase consumption tax to make people who use the services pay their “fair share”.
First of all, I hate the term “fair share”. My fair share is whatever we voluntarily agree to. So if I make a table that cost me $100 to build, and sell it to you for $50, and sell another one to someone else for $150, you both paid your fair share, but that is besides the point.
Marks says that if they add a 1.5% consumption tax it wouldn’t deter any suburbanites from going to the city and would force them to pay for the services they use. So what percentage would deter people from coming? Would 2%? How about 5%? Since 1.5% doesn’t deter people, why don’t we raise the tax 1.5% every 6 months? That way people will be used to paying the tax then the 1.5% future increase won’t deter them either. 1.5% is small, right? His website says he speaks on economics (among several other topics–I have no doubt he is a very smart, successful man), I’d love to hear what he thinks about price theory and taxes. Maybe he isn’t aware that Philly already has a 20% parking tax, 2% sales tax on top of the 6% state sales tax, a 4% wage tax, 15.5% hotel tax, 10% alcohol tax, and I’m sure there are countless others. I’m a suburbanite. I’ve lived in each of the three counties surrounding the city, yet I never go to that city because it is way too expensive. Maybe if I ever make Gene Marks money I’ll change my tune.
I also wish Marks would stop talking like he is a collectivist. He claims he is a conservative, but he talks about using Philadelphia’s restaurants. They aren’t Philadelphia’s restaurants. They’re Stephen Starr’s restaurants. They’re Del Frisco’s restaurants. They’re owned by entrepreneurs and businesses, not the people of Northeast Philly. So for instance, why should people who live in the Northeast, about 15 miles away from Center City, have to pay for those roads? There are people in Delco who live about 6 miles away, but they don’t pay for them. It’s all because of an arbitrary border.
Do you think that the people who own the business would want to maintain the roads? Wouldn’t they want people to have easy access to their businesses? Privatizing the roads would certainly solve the “pay your fair share” problem, because the people who own them and use them would pay for them. Say with waste removal, security, fire, etc.
I know that there no shot in hell of the mayor reading this article and deciding he is going to start privatizing everything, but it would be helpful if people started thinking as individuals and not as a collective. Maybe we could let the market decide how much people are willing to pay for the atmosphere and experience of the city. If the businesses of center city didn’t do a good job of getting people in and out, they would probably be leaving a lot of money on the table. It is clearly in their interest, not to mention the car companies’ interest, to maintain the roads and make sure people have a safe, pleasant experience.