By Pat Loeb

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — How to make Philadelphia more business-friendly: That was the topic of hearings in city council last week.

There was general agreement that fewer taxes would help but no clear path to get there.

One sign of how important an issue this is to the business community is that business leaders waited hours to speak. Though some of the details of their testimony differed, the central message was similar. Jerry Sweeney of Brandywine Realty put it this way.

“There is no question, no question, that our tax structure is a gating issue to us growing jobs,” Sweeney said. “Companies looking to relocated in Philadelphia see a city that has a wage tax that is four times the regional average and the highest wage tax among the 50 largest U.S. cities. Businesses are also deterred when they see a tax structure that adds, through U&O (Use and Occupancy) and BIRT (Business Income Receipts Tax) a tax premium of 20-30 % to do business in the city. That additional tax burden for a company to locate into Philadelphia could be up to $25/sq. ft.”

Even Commerce Director Harold Epps agreed reform is necessary, though he touted the progress the city has made in lowering wage taxes and attracting businesses.

“Everything about Philadelphia is going in the right direction,” Epps said. “We just need to go faster.”

Councilwoman Helen Gym argued there’s more to a business climate than taxes, and that taxes pay for amenities that make Philadelphia attractive. She noted one big obstacle to keeping young people in the city is schools and improving those will take a lot of funding.

“No one loves the U&O tax, but frankly we need a school business tax and that is exactly what that thing is,” Gym said. “It’s a tax on business recognizing that businesses earn more money than a resident and that money goes 100 percent into our public schools. This is a city with a lot of needs and we’re trying to make sure the needs of business are tied in with our residential life.

Members promised to use the testimony of develop concrete proposals.