Nutter: No 'new' taxes; 'new' is relative term

Posted: February 28, 2012

Following a poll that showed a growing majority of Philadelphians concerned about the city's high tax burden, Mayor Nutter pledged Tuesday not to seek any new taxes in the coming budget, though some recent increases billed as temporary may become permanent.

"The mayor has no intention of requesting a tax increase," his spokesman, Mark McDonald, said.

City residents have endured four years of tax increases, including two "temporary" property tax increases, as the city has scrambled to make up for lost revenue from the recession.

Their weariness has been reflected in annual public opinion polls commissioned by the Pew Charitable Trust's Philadelphia Research Initiative.

This year, 70 percent of those polled said the city's tax burden was either a "very serious" or "somewhat serious" problem, a sharp increase from 62 percent in 2011 and 55 percent in 2010.

"We recognize the burden and are trying to do something about it," McDonald said. "While we're not out of the woods . . . we're beginning to see improvements in various sectors of the economy."

He noted that incremental, annual decreases in wage and business taxes - suspended since 2009 - were slated to restart next year.

Nutter is scheduled to give his budget address on March 8. The city must pass a budget by June 30.

Nutter is counting on more revenue from property taxes in the next fiscal year thanks to the Actual Value Initiative, an effort to fix decades of inaccurate and incomplete assessments.

The administration says the city merely would be capturing the natural increase in the true value of property; critics say the administration is using AVI to mask a very real tax hike.

Either way, the switch to AVI essentially means the temporary property tax increases - 10 percent in 2010 and then 4 percent in 2011 - would remain in place.

The Pew poll also showed a majority of city residents - 56 percent - supporting Council President Darrell L. Clarke's proposal to sell advertising space on public buildings.

Clarke said selling advertising could raise $10 million a year - money he would like to pencil into the next budget.

"First and foremost, we have to think outside the box," he said. "Your first response to a fiscal challenge cannot be to reach into somebody's pocket."

But the proposal will face opposition from urban-blight and outdoor-advertising opponents, particularly the group SCRUB, which is about to change its name to Scenic Philadelphia.

Stephanie Kindt, a staff lawyer for the group, said it was unclear how much money Clarke's proposal would raise. "If Philadelphia is for sale, we should at least know the price," she said.

SCRUB would oppose signs at City Hall, Kindt said, fearing that advertising for casinos or strip clubs would mar the city's most prime real estate.

Clarke said any advertising would have to be tasteful and appropriate to the setting.

"The next time a SEPTA bus rolls by, look at it," he said. "You haven't heard a peep about people complaining about SEPTA buses."

While the city would be able to regulate some advertising - such as for alcohol and tobacco - the First Amendment would prohibit the city from barring other content, Kindt said. Clarke disagreed.

Clarke's advertising bill - and another that would permit ads on school buses - face committee hearings in the coming weeks.

The Pew poll also delivered a mixed message from voters.

While a majority said taxes were a problem, 49 percent said they would pay higher taxes for more city services. Forty-two percent preferred lower taxes and fewer services.

The poll, conducted in January among 1,600 city residents, also asked questions about such contentious issues as city worker pensions and the proposed tax on soda.

Those polled were closely split on the soda tax, which Nutter has failed to get through City Council the past two years. Forty-nine percent were opposed and 46 percent were in favor.

There was a similar split on whether the city should be allowed to give lower and cheaper pension benefits to new employees. Forty-three percent approved; 47 percent said new workers should get the same benefits as current employees.

The margin of error for the poll is approximately plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.


Contact staff writer Troy Graham at 215-854-2730, tgraham@phillynews.com or @troyjgraham on TwitterMore Philadelphians think the city's high tax burden is a serious problem, according to the results of a Pew poll released this morning.

The number of people who said taxes were either a "very serious" or "somewhat serious" problem shot up to 70 percent, from 62 percent in 2011 and 55 percent in 2010.

At the same, 49 percent of those polled said they would pay higher taxes for more city services, while 42 percent preferred lower taxes and fewer services.

"Philadelphians send a variety of messages about taxes," said Larry Eichel, project director of Pew's Philadelphia Research Initiative.

The poll, conducted in January among 1,600 city residents, also asked questions about such contentious issues as city worker pensions, advertising on public buildings and a proposed tax on soda.

A majority - 56 percent - said they favored Council President Darrell L. Clarke's proposal to sell advertising space on public buildings.

But those polled were closely split on the soda tax, which Mayor Nutter has failed to get through City Council the past two years. Forty-nine percent were opposed and 46 percent were in favor.

Clarke said today he was not suprised by the support for his advertising idea, which he said could raise at least $8 million for the city.

"I have long been of the view that the city of Philadelphia cannot tax its way out of a fiscal crisis," he said.

There was also a split among those polled on whether the city should be allowed to give lower and cheaper pension benefits to new employees. Forty-three percent approved of that idea; 47 percent said new workers should get the same benefits.

The margin of error for the poll is approximately plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

For more complete results, go to: http://bit.ly/yOLqqr


Contact staff writer Troy Graham at 215-854-2730, tgraham@phillynews.com or @troyjgraham on Twitter.

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