1 Pennsylvania Airport, 2 Rates of Wage Tax

Don Peterson may be one of the few people who didn't change jobs, didn't move to a new home, and didn't get a pay cut - but still got a $400 break on his city wage tax last year.

His secret: working at Philadelphia International Airport.

Not just any work. But work that squarely plants him behind the US Airways ticket counters in Terminal A-West, the three-year-old international terminal.

Working the same job in Terminals B or C, where US Airways does the majority of its business, would hit Peterson right in the wallet - because the terminal that Peterson transferred to last year, you see, is in a part of the city-owned airport that is outside Philadelphia.

And that means no city wage tax.

"It's so bizarre the way it's done," said Peterson, who has worked eight years for US Airways and lives in Prospect Park, Delaware County. "You assume it's one airport, but there are two different taxes people pay."

Call it a topographical quirk, the result of the airport's straddling the border of Philadelphia and Delaware Counties.

More than 60 percent of the airport's 2,300 acres are in Delaware County's Tinicum Township - including both international terminals (A-East and A-West), and four gates at the tail end of Terminal B.

For airport employees who live in Philadelphia, that means nothing; city residents have to pay the city wage tax no matter where they work. For them the rate is 4.3 percent.

But for gate and ticket agents - as well as baggage handlers, security screeners, and McDonald's or other concessionaire workers - who work on the Tinicum side and who don't live in Philadelphia, it means paying just a 1 percent earned-income tax to Tinicum Township.

Consider it an almost-duty free zone.

By contrast, virtually all other noncity residents who work anywhere else at the airport pay a Philadelphia wage tax rate of 3.77 percent - the lowest level since 1976, but still one of highest wage tax rates in the country.

The bottom line: Noncity residents stationed in Tinicum earn 3 percent more than their airport counterparts working on Philadelphia turf, the equivalent of a pay raise.

Word is that some employees have even requested transfers to boost their paychecks. Hanging in some offices are airport maps with a distinct line separating the good (Tinicum), so to speak, from the bad (Philadelphia).

Only one other major city employer seems to share in this taxing tug of war: St. Joseph's University, whose 65-acre campus spills over into Montgomery County.

"I'm one of the fortunate ones," joked Tom Durso, the university's director of communications. His office doesn't sit on Philadelphia ground - nor do those of 150 other university employees who escape paying the city wage tax, as long as they don't live in the city.


At the airport, the tax issue is perhaps most complicated for the biggest employer there, US Airways.

In 2003, the airline opened its international terminal - a building that is half the size of the airport's six other terminals combined and lies entirely in Tinicum Township.

Consider 55-year-old Ron Hanselman, a US Airways worker who pushes wheelchairs and helps elderly passengers board flights. He does all this work in the new international terminal.

But to begin his day, Hanselman must obtain his daily assignment at an office near Gate 16 in Terminal B, a gate that happens to sit in Tinicum. And to get there, he must walk through the B concourse, which is in Philadelphia.

Because of that work-related stroll through the city, he said, US Airways has determined that he, and others in that job, must pay the city wage tax on 55 percent of his hours.

"Our tax responsibility has gone up because we get five minutes a day in Philadelphia," Hanselman said. By his estimate, the city wage tax costs him $2.19 a day, but he intends to fight for reimbursement with a city request for a tax refund.


Then there's Irene Morris of King of Prussia, who also works a job like Hanselman's, in the international terminal. She's getting hit with the Tinicum tax and the city wage tax.

The normal response to a mistake like this is to ask US Airways for a letter to give to the city stating she works only in Tinicum. But it's not always that easy, especially when your employer has been distracted by two bankruptcy filings and a merger, she said.

A five-year US Airways employee who has survived three wage cuts and two job furloughs, Morris, the mother of four children, is now losing a few hundred dollars a year.

Said Morris: "You just give up after a while."

Others who have been doubly taxed, such as Theresa Love of Upper Darby, have had more success. She got a city refund in 2004 of $477.62.

After fighting for a year, she said, "for me, it's finally worked out."

Philadelphia Inquirer

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