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Penn Pledges $100M to Philadelphia Amid Local Tax Debate

November 18, 2020
 
 

The University of Pennsylvania will contribute $100 million to the city of Philadelphia over a decade, the university announced Tuesday.

The city will use the money to remediate environmental hazards, including asbestos and lead, in public school buildings, according to a press release.

“Nothing is more important than the health and welfare of our children, and few things are more crucial to a community than the safety and quality of its public schools,” Amy Gutmann, University of Pennsylvania president, said in the release. “We are proud to be able to partner with our City and School District to significantly improve the learning environment for Philadelphia’s schoolchildren in a way that will have a long-lasting impact on the health, safety, and wellbeing of our entire City.”

Students have for years called on the wealthy private university to make payments in lieu of taxes, called PILOTs, to the city. Recently, faculty and staff members joined them. The $10 million per year outlined in Tuesday’s pledge is lower than the estimated $40 million per year that PILOT advocates requested, and significantly lower than what the university would owe the city if it were subject to property taxes.

In a press release, Philadelphia Jobs With Justice -- an advocacy group made up of labor unions and student, community and faith groups -- commended Penn for the contribution but said that chronic underfunding of Philadelphia's public schools can't be solved with one-time gifts. It also specifically called upon other private nonprofit universities in the city to do more.

"For too long, wealthy nonprofits like the University of Pennsylvania have failed to pay their fair share despite the severity of this public health crisis," the group said in a press release. "This is a welcome first step, and we demand that other wealthy nonprofits like Jefferson and Drexel look to Penn’s leadership when they consider [what] they owe to the city they call home."

Penn for PILOTS, an organization of faculty and staff members at the university, released a statement that called on Penn to do more and make a commitment without the newly announced contribution's time limits.

"The University of Pennsylvania is Philadelphia’s largest private property owner, and in the city of Philadelphia, property taxes are the principal source of local revenue for public education," the Penn for PILOTS statement said. "Year in and year out, Penn’s property tax exemption deprives the public school system of funds that students, teachers, and staff need and deserve. Year in and year out, the poorest big city in the United States subsidizes one of the richest universities in the country by forfeiting a portion of its property tax revenues. A time-limited gift will not make up for Penn’s accumulated debt to the public schools, nor will it ensure that Penn contributes what it owes in the future."

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