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January 21, 2016

City Council eyes requirement for Philadelphia businesses to report tax breaks, job creation

Subsidy Accountability Bill would require annual "open data" reporting from local businesses

Business City Council
Philadelphia skyline Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice


In her first regular meeting with City Council on Thursday, Philadelphia councilwoman Helen Gym introduced two bills that could bring greater transparency to the local economy and provide a more complete picture of how many jobs local businesses create.

Gym, joined by four other new council members, introduced a Subsidy Accountability Bill that would require "open data" reporting by private businesses that receive tax breaks at the local and state level.

“Every year, businesses are granted tax breaks from the City of Philadelphia but we have no way to evaluate the return on investment,”Councilwoman Gym said in a statement. “This legislation will help us target our limited resources toward businesses that are using these subsidies to grow the local economy and increase good jobs. These annual reports will help us champion businesses that deliver on their promises.”

Council members supporting the bill cited two reports, one from the City Controller and one from PlanPhilly, noting that $380 million in tax breaks have been granted to local businesses since 1999 through one subsidy – The Keystone Opportunity Zone – without a requirement to track outcomes of jobs created.

The Subsidy Accountability Bill would require the city of Philadelphia to disclose the total dollar value of subsidies received by local business and report on both the number and quality of jobs they create and sustain.

According to PlanPhilly, the bill would apply to a variety of subsidies that reduce tax obligations to the city or state – including local grants, loans and properties acquired from the city at below-market value – but would exclude licenses, permits, zoning changes, "by right" subsidies and non-monetary benefits.

“Growing and sustaining good jobs is key to economic development policies that work for working families," said Mark Price, labor economist at the Keystone Research Center. "Taxpayers and policymakers need accurate and detailed information on whether or not subsidies are actually paying off. If passed, this legislation will undoubtedly serve a model for economic development accountability in communities across Pennsylvania.”