Philadelphia City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell says she just scored a victory for low-income residents in her district who are burdened by piles of old parking tickets.
“It’s not right for the citizens of Philadelphia to feel like victims of a parking authority,” Blackwell said last month.
Council passed legislation introduced by the West Philly councilwoman that would offer amnesty for parking tickets and fees older than five years, with some conditions. Critics had said the policy would divert Philadelphia Parking Authority revenues that benefit the city’s school district while helping well-to-do to do scofflaws at the same time.
Council nevertheless voted 14-to-3 on Thursday in favor of the bill during its final session of the year – but Mayor Jim Kenney’s office, which opposed the bill, says the issue has not yet been put to rest.
“We don’t think this is the final version of the bill and we look forward to continuing to work with the Councilwoman on it,” Kenney spokesperson Lauren Hitt said.
Hitt offered no other details. But, after the veto-proof vote, administration sources said the only option left for the Mayor’s Office was to lobby Blackwell to voluntarily recall her own bill and amend it once more. Recalling legislation is a fairly unusual action that sponsors may exercise after final passage but before a bill is signed by the mayor.
Many in City Hall have speculated that the Kenney administration is likely on the cusp of proposing a major tax increase to proactively stanch a looming school funding deficit. The optics of forgoing, potentially, a few million in back parking ticket revenues – despite the PPA’s poor history of actually sending funds to the school district – would start an already tough pitch to voters off on the wrong foot.
Kenney’s staff had sought even more restrictions before the bill’s passage this week.
Blackwell initially introduced similar legislation back in 2016, proposing full, one-time amnesty for parking tickets older than three years during a special 45- to 90-day window. The bill was then amended last month to cover only tickets older than five years, granting amnesty so long as participants paid off more recent fines.
Last week, the bill was held just before a final vote while Kenney staffers scrambled to convince Blackwell to amend the bill once more. However, the latest changes, which passed council this week, appeared minor. The final version opens a two-month window in 2018 that allows participants with no outstanding parking tickets after 2013 to seek full amnesty after paying a $50 “administrative fee” – the rest of the legislation appears unchanged.
Council observers said the odds of the mercurial Blackwell yanking her newly passed bill were slim. While late parking fees are a comparatively minor revenue issue, some said Council’s willingness to sweep the bill through in spite of the administration’s frustrated jockeying did not bode well for Kenney down the road.
“At its most basic level, it demonstrates that the administration doesn’t have nine votes in its pocket all the time,” said one source. “Property tax increases, tax liens and tax abatements: you could draw a dotted line between those issues and parking ticket amnesty, in terms of how council members will react.”