Councilmember Kendra Brooks, activists push to ‘tax the rich’ in Philly

Protesters rallied in support of a “wealth tax” Monday, April 18, outside the Comcast Center.
Jack Tomczuk

Using the towering Comcast Center as a backdrop, activists with bright yellow “Tax the Rich” signs rallied Monday afternoon, chanting “pay your fair share” while glaring at the top floors of the skyscraper.

On Tax Day, the group, which included municipal workers, called for a new levy — a so-called “wealth tax” on stocks, bonds and other investments being pushed by Councilmember Kendra Brooks.

Such a tax could raise $240 to $280 million a year, according to Brooks’s office, which could be reinvested in affordable housing, libraries, recreation centers, schools and other government services, supporters said.

Community College of Philadelphia instructor Jamie Zigarelli speaks Monday, April 18, during a protest outside the Comcast Center.Jack Tomczuk

“This city has for too long prioritized the comfort and the attention of the rich over the working people suffering, over Black and brown people suffering,” said Ahmad Mitchell, a Community College of Philadelphia student who spoke at the rally.

“How can we build the city of our dreams for everyone, where folks who are unhoused or threatened with being unhoused have a place to go home and feel safe?” Brooks said at the protest. “The significance of this wealth tax is for us to begin to create the city of our dreams.”

Brooks’s legislation would impose a 0.04% levy, or $4 for every $1,000, on investments and other holdings, excluding savings and retirement accounts, such Roth IRA and 401k plans.

Councilmember Kendra Brooks speaks Monday, April 18, at a protest outside the Comcast Center.Jack Tomczuk

The bill has the support of AFSCME District Councils 44 and 33, unions representing a wide swath of city employees, and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a champion of progressive causes, spoke in favor of the Philadelphia tax last month.

“We need those who have a pocket full of money and more than they can spend in a lifetime to pay their fair share,” Nicolas O’Rourke, a leader of the local Working Families Party, told the crowd Monday afternoon.

Two years ago, Brooks offered a similar tax, but the proposal never received a hearing. City Council is currently considering spending and tax legislation for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

“City budget season has officially begun and, from the mayor’s address, it is clear we have a fight on our hands,” Free Library of Philadelphia librarian Sunita Balija said.

Brooks and backers of the levy have said the personal property tax would affect wealthier city residents much more than middle or working class Philadelphians, though it would apply to every income bracket.

Protesters pin “invoices” to a sign outside the Comcast Center on Monday, April 18.Jack Tomczuk

Speakers at the rally targeted Comcast and, particularly, CEO Brian Roberts, whose net worth is nearly $2 billion, according to data from Americans For Tax Fairness and the Institute for Policy Studies, two left-leaning groups.

Comcast, which paid Roberts a salary of $3.4 million last year, declined to comment on the protest. The corporation has said it pays the city about $100 million in taxes and fees annually.

Near the end of Monday’s rally, participants pinned large sticky notes featuring “invoices” for Comcast and Roberts to a sign outside the Comcast Center.