Philadelphians have strong views about what they pay in taxes. Although they agree on a few things, they have differing opinions on what the city should tax, and especially on how Philadelphia should spend those dollars. The Pew Charitable Trusts has been exploring the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on tax revenues as well as possible scenarios that could affect the city’s recovery in the coming years. This analysis specifically examines residents’ views on taxes.
The latest Pew Philadelphia Poll, conducted Jan. 3-31, 2022, covered a range of issues and included questions about spending and taxation. This year, Philadelphians expressed strong opposition to raising property taxes and shared the views that wealthy residents do not pay their fair share and that the Philadelphia beverage tax is unfair. However, other questions—such as whether local government should prioritize expanding city services or lower taxes—did not have a clear consensus. Pew originally asked some of these questions in 2013; and nearly a decade later, Philadelphians’ views remain divided.
These results underscore the challenge that policymakers face as they debate reviewing and revising the tax mix in Philadelphia. For example, shifting more of the tax burden to property taxes may be wise economically, but it comes at a risk of displeasing voters and displacing low-income homeowners. Finding the right tax mix may be complicated—though it may be a more realistic goal than finding a mix that will please everyone.
Views on specific taxes
When asked about specific taxes, such as the local property tax, Philadelphians have become more opposed to increases over time. In 2022, 76% of Philadelphians opposed raising the property tax to maintain city services, even if wage or business taxes were cut. This represents an increase of 17 percentage points since 2013, when Pew first asked this question. (See Table 1.)
Philadelphians’ Views on Raising Property Tax to Maintain City Services
|Favor raising property tax
|Oppose raising property tax
Sources: The Pew Philadelphia Polls, 2013 and 2022
© 2022 The Pew Charitable Trusts
Pew also asked residents to rate four local Philadelphia taxes by fairness: the local sales tax, the wage tax, the property tax, and the beverage tax. Specifically, we asked whether everyone in the city is paying their fair share of the tax. Overall, more than half of Philadelphians (55%) felt that the local sales tax was fair, while only 35% of residents said the beverage tax was fair. (See Figure 1.)
Forty-nine percent of respondents indicated that the property tax was “less fair” or “least fair.” And a little over 10% of respondents chose not to respond or left the questions blank.
Most Philadelphians—regardless of race or ethnicity, income, or educational attainment—were in agreement regarding how fair the city’s four major taxes are. However, nearly two-thirds of residents ages 65 and older deemed the beverage tax unfair, with 50% indicating that it was “least fair.” Of people who have lived in Philadelphia for more than 30 years, 47% said this tax was “least fair.”
Regarding the local sales tax—considered the most fair of the four options overall—residents with a college degree or higher level of education (65%) and those earning at least $100,000 annually (65%) agreed that it was fair; of Philadelphians with a high school degree or less education, as well as those with annual incomes less than $30,000, 48% agreed that it was fair.
City spending priorities
Pew found Philadelphians evenly split on whether city government should prioritize economic growth that creates jobs (49%) or prioritize helping low-income households directly (49%). On the other hand, there was greater division among gender and age groups on this question; 59% of men favored job creation, compared with 42% of women, and 61% of Philadelphians over age 65 would prioritize job creation, compared with 45% of those ages 18-29. Only 44% of Philadelphians agreed that reducing the city tax on businesses would help create jobs. Fifty-five percent believed that reducing the business tax burden would only help businesses make more profit.
Philadelphians were split on whether they prefer more government services and higher taxes (45%) versus fewer services and lower taxes (53%). Philadelphians under age 50 were more evenly split in their views, as opposed to those older than 50, who were more strongly opposed to paying more for government services. (See Figure 2.) Attitudes have remained relatively unchanged since 2013; back then, 41% of Philadelphians preferred more government services and higher taxes. Between 2013 and 2022, age group responses remained similar as well, except for residents ages 30-49, whose support for higher taxes and more services increased by 13 percentage points.
Views on wealthy Philadelphians’ tax share
Philadelphians are most in agreement on the question of whether wealthy residents pay more than their fair share in local taxes, less than they should, or about the right amount. Sixty-eight percent of Philadelphians said that wealthy residents pay less than their fair share, a view that was held across demographic groups and neighborhoods and that showed consensus among residents at all income levels. (See Figure 3.) Black residents (74%) and residents in Northwest Philadelphia (77%), in particular, expressed this view strongly. In the survey, Pew did not define “wealthy” or “fair share” for respondents.
Overall, Philadelphians’ general attitudes toward local taxes have remained divided in recent years, without clear views on whether the city should lower taxes or make a greater investment in services. But in 2022, there was widespread agreement among all Philadelphians that property taxes should not be raised and that wealthy residents currently pay less than their fair share of local taxes.
Future Pew research will further investigate property, residential, and business taxes to help deepen understanding of the proposed changes’ impact on how and what Philadelphia taxes.
Elinor Haider is a director, Katie Martin is a senior manager, and Jason Hachadorian is an officer with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Philadelphia research and policy initiative.
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