Kevin J. Boyle is starting his fourth two-year term in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and has two major priorities at the top of his agenda: reforming the state-controlled Philadelphia Parking Authority and taxing energy companies that extract natural gas from the state’s Marcellus shale region.
“I think what’s going on in the PPA is a disgrace,” Boyle said to members of the Fox Chase Homeowners Association during the civic group’s monthly meeting on Jan. 11.
Boyle represents the 172nd district, which includes all of Fox Chase, as well as portions of Burholme, Bustleton, Rhawnhurst, Mayfair and Holmesburg in the Northeast, as well as Rockledge, Montgomery County.
The lawmaker specifically cited former PPA Executive Director Vince Fenerty’s compensation after he abruptly resigned from the agency in September amid allegations that he sexually harassed two women employees there. On Jan. 4, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Fenerty got more than $227,000 as compensation for unused vacation, sick and comp times, as well as administrative leave. The one-time payments came from the PPA’s general fund, according to the news report.
In addition, Fenerty will collect a pension worth more than $158,000 a year. The PPA board was planning to terminate Fenerty when he resigned, the newspaper reported.
Boyle noted that one of the targets of the alleged harassment was Sue Cornell, a former state representative for Eastern Montgomery County and the Far Northeast from 2004 to ’06.
He is also outraged by the PPA’s declining financial contributions to the city’s public schools. Last March, planphilly.com reported that the PPA budgeted an $8 million contribution to the School District of Philadelphia for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2017. That figure amounted to a $2 million reduction from fiscal 2016 and a $3 million reduction from fiscal 2015.
Meanwhile, City Council President Darrell Clarke told the Inquirer in October that Council had approved a parking fee rate increase after the PPA told Council that the additional revenue would support a $7.5 million increase in the agency’s funding to schools.
Boyle wants to return control of the PPA to city government, although doing so would require an uphill political fight in Harrisburg. Republicans hold a majority in the state House and Senate, while Democrats dominate city government. As a result, the PPA has for years been viewed as a patronage agency for the city’s Republican minority. Boyle, a Democrat, claimed that more than 20 PPA staffers collect six-figure salaries.
Lawmakers advocating for natural gas extraction taxes face similar political challenges in the state capital, despite “widespread popular support” for taxation, Boyle said.
A year ago, Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, proposed a 6.5-percent tax on Marcellus shale production, which could generate an estimated $217.8 million in revenue for the state. But Republicans disputed his revenue projection and failed to advance legislation on the issue.
Boyle argues that Philadelphia and other counties were forced to raise property taxes to fund schools in the absence of sufficient state funding that the gas tax could have provided.
In unrelated business:
• Fox Chase Town Watch President Steve Phillips introduced the 7th Police District’s new community relations officer to residents. Capt. Michael Gormley appointed Officer Joseph Staszak to the job after longtime CRO Rich Simon retired. Staszak answered questions from residents of the 8200 block of Halstead St. who are concerned about a Dec. 24 shooting on the block.
• The 2nd district’s CRO, Mark Mroz, reported that police carried out a major drug bust on the 1000 block of Ripley St. on Jan. 5. Based on a tip from a confidential source, undercover narcotics investigators were conducting surveillance of the house when they saw a man emerge carrying a large bag and a rifle or shotgun, Mroz said. Police questioned him and found he was carrying a large amount of marijuana.
Police ultimately seized about 100 pounds of marijuana from the suspect, the house and a car. They arrested the suspect, who they believe was involved in drug trafficking elsewhere in the city. ••