Welcome to Philadelphia, Dr. William R. Hite Jr., new superintendent and CEO of the School District of Philadelphia. Please note that "Broad Street" is what we call 14th Street, it's "Queen Village," not "Queens Village," and the "Old" in Old City is not spelled "Olde." We all have high hopes for your tenure and stand ready to help you make Philadelphia schools the pathways toward educational achievement and economic advancement that will help our city thrive. Yet, as I type these words, I am conscious that the odds are that I will be re-typing them with the name of a new, new superintendent in just a few short years.
Former Philadelphia Mayor Bill Green once called Philadelphia City Council "the worst legislative body in the free world." But, by insisting that we only move forward with the necessary effort to make real estate taxation fair and accurate after we collectively have a chance to review the proposed new values, Council acted appropriately and praiseworthy. Once Council reviews the values, it can set a new tax rate and craft the necessary tax policies to protect vulnerable homeowners and ensure a reasonable transition from our current unfair and inaccurate system to an equitable and legitimate system.
I think the Starland Vocal Band gives sound advice in the classic "Afternoon Delight." My motto's always been "When it's right, it's right." Why wait until the middle of a cold, dark night? When everything's a little clearer in the light of day? And you know the night is always gonna be there anyway?
While everything is definitely a little clearer in the light of day, government officials are doing their darndest this budget season to make sure that we are moving ahead and adopting spending plans without full information, without clarity and without sunshine. Maybe they are afraid that if we turned on the lights, we wouldn't be so happy about what we see.
We'll see. That pretty much sums up Mayor Nutter's proposal to implement the much-needed Actual Value Initiative (AVI) before we examine how the move to fair and accurate property values will affect Philadelphia property owners. This lack of vision calls to mind—and pretty much proves—every common sight-related cliche.
Do Philadelphia nonprofits pay their fair share for city services? For those who say nonprofits should pay more, a recent court ruling could be (as the kids say) a game changer. The only question for the future might be, "What will be the name of the game?"
I will testify before City Council next week on Mayor Nutter's proposed legislation to implement a back-door tax increase by setting real estate tax rates before we understand how property values will change under the Actual Value Initiative. Here's what I plan to tell them.
We need to be doing all we can to establish fairness, legitimacy and legality in real estate taxation. Instead, Mayor Nutter's proposed legislation would make permanent two years of "temporary" tax increases, raise another $90 million in taxes for the school district, and do it all without us understanding how these changes will affect Philadelphia's homeowners. This backward approach could be devastating to your constituents.
Nutter Administration officials have been busy explaining how the plan to generate an additional $90 million through a much-needed citywide reassessment to set accurate Real Estate Tax values is not a tax increase. Not only does the Mayor want to make those temporary Real Estate Tax increases enacted in 2010 and 2011 permanent and bring in another $90 million next year, he wants to do all this and get credit for not raising taxes. It's a ridiculous exercise in double talk that is not convincing anyone.
Each spring, I join with observers around the world to retell an ancient tale and pose a number of questions. (No, it's not the story of the Flyers Stanley Cup drought and the questions about finding a cup-winning goalie.) We tell the story of the biblical exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and read the Passover Haggadah—wondering why this night is different from all other night and singing songs and prayers of gratitude.
The lessons we learn and relearn each year are much on my mind as we approach the coming Primary Election.
The Mayor has proposed another tax increase this year. (And in his proposed legislation he wants City Council to approve another tax increase for next year too). Philadelphians aren't happy about more tax increases, but if we are not going to increase taxes and we are unable to become more efficient, where can we find the money to run city government? If we can at least collect what is already owed, we can generate millions.
The City of Philadelphia is owed hundreds of millions of dollars in uncollected taxes, fines and fees. All the while, overtaxed residents and employers pay some of the nation's highest tax bills. If the Mayor has his way, those tax bills will continue to rise, but they don't have to.