City's next mayor will have to get through AVI gauntlet

Posted: June 22, 2012

City Council has not just pushed back Mayor Nutter's request for new system to tax property in Philadelphia to help fund city schools by one year.

Council also pushed the controversial issue one year closer to the 2015 race for mayor.

At least four Council members — Blondell Reynolds Brown, Jim Kenney, Bill Green and W. Wilson Goode Jr. -- are being discussed as potential 2015 candidates for mayor.

They are joined by state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams and City Controller Alan Butkovitz, two potential candidates with drastically different opinions on the move to a property-tax system based on market values, known as the Actual Value Initiative.

Think of Williams and Butkovitz as the two ends of the AVI political scale — Williams wanted AVI put in place this year while Butkovitz opposes the idea now, next year and in the future.

We spoke this week to each of the potential candidates. The role of AVI in the 2015 race is very much on their minds.

"I believe its explosive," Butkovitz said. "I think it will be polarizing as we get to the 2015 race."

Williams, who is pushing in Harrisburg for legislation needed to implement AVI, voiced frustration that some of his potential 2015 opponents are moving tactically to prepare for the mayor's race. And he knows his position could cost him votes.

"The fact that I had some responsibility in constructing a system that is fair, I'm sure some people will penalize me for that," Williams said.

The biggest threat lies with the Council members, who will cast AVI votes next year that may haunt them in the run-up to 2015.

AVI is designed to tax people based on the market value of their homes, and likely would reduce property taxes for people in neighborhoods that have declined in value while increasing them for people with homes in neighborhoods that have increased in value.

But seasoned politicians know voters who get tax increases are far more angry and motivated than voters who get tax breaks.

Green said "there's absolutely no question" of a political risk, noting that voters in Allegheny County rejected at least two politicians there for an AVI switch. Green hopes to surprise Philly voters with a new approach that will blunt "the potential negative and harmful impacts" of AVI.

Goode says AVI "will definitely have an impact" on 2015 but thinks voters are eager for a fair property tax system in the city.

Brown agrees, saying it is important to pitch "the big picture" to voters angry about increases in their property taxes.

Kenney said Council must find ways to ease the property tax change for people who have moved into the city in the last decade, the gentrifying homeowners who get involved in neighborhood groups.

"They could live anywhere," Kenney said. "They're not poor but they're not rich. They love the city. They could live in the suburbs."

City Hall lobby wars

City Council put out a call last week for a lobbyist to represent its interests in Harrisburg. Applications are due Thursday.

The job description says Council's new lobbyist duties "could sometimes include coordination with the City Administration or the Administration's lobbyists."

But in practice recently, Council and the Nutter administration have been more at odds on lobbying then on the same team.

Council has been asking state legislators for some protection from costly appeals that could arise from the one-year delay in Harrisburg. Three different legislators told us Nutter lobbied against that while seeking the power to rewrite the city budget, using AVI's anticipated new market value rates for property.

Nutter insisted yesterday that he was not opposing Council's efforts in Harrisburg, but one of his top staffers conceded that Nutter would hold a stronger hand with Council if he had the power to put AVI into effect this year and the threat of those costly appeals if Council's effort failed.

Quotable vs. Quotable:

"Will Council step up for the school students of Philadelphia? Confronting unprecedented school fiscal crisis, what will Council do?"

— Mayor Nutter spokesman Mark McDonald, who tweets @PhillyPressSec, asking yesterday if Council will meet Nutter's budget demands for school funding.

"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Property Assessments #phillybudget"

— Jane Roh, spokeswoman for Council President Darrell Clarke, tweeting after McDonald via @Jane_Roh, noting that Nutter is asking Council to set property tax rates before it sees new data on property values.

Staff Writer Catherine Lucey contributed to this report.

Contact Chris Brennan at 215-854-5973 or email him at

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