Philadelphia Metropolis


I Screwed Up

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Thumbnail image for Mayor Nutter 3.jpgSo much for my political prescience.  In this space recently, I wrote that AVI was going to pass.  It did not.

City Council yesterday [Thursday] pulled back from passing the controversial real estate assessment programs and decided to punt.  It put AVI off for a year.  Instead, it decided to make a small boost in existing real estate taxes (costing taxpayers $35 for each $1,000 in tax they pay) and increase the city's use and occupancy tax, which is levied on tenants in commercial buildings.  These two tax increases will raise $40 million for the Philadelphia School Disrtrict, far short of the $94 million Mayor Nutter was seeking.

What did AVI in?  Too many imponderables.  Too many questions; not enough answers. Council members were being asked to take a leap of faith on a reassessment program that had not been completed and whose effects were murky. As Jim Kenney said (and rightly so) it was too important a vote to take without benefit of the facts.

This is a set back for Mayor Nutter, who lobbied hard for AVI passage this year.  Nutter even flew back from Orlando to lobby Council members personally.  As first, when I heard that, I thought he had grown weary of being mayor of Philadelphia and decided instead to be mayor of Orlando.

I was wrong again.

Turns out Nutter is in Florida attending the U.S. Conference of Mayors and was being elected as president of that august assembly - basking in the warmth of the sun and the glow of national publicity. After failing to get Council to pass the legislation, he returned to Florida.  Alas, that means he won't be available for comment on his interpretation on what went wrong on AVI.

But, had he been able to comment here is what he probably would have said:

I owe the taxpayers of Philadelphia an apology.  I screwed up.  I tried to implement

major policy change without doing the necessary groundwork. I tried to sell Council and the public on a cake that was only half-baked and they did not buy it.

As someone who has been in public service for decades, I should have known as well as anyone that there are two steps essential to any change in public policy. One is conceptualization. The other is implementation.

There is nothing wrong with the concept behind AVI - which is to meet the legal requirement that property tax assessments have a relation to market reality. Ours do not and that had to change.

But, as I often do, I screwed up on the implementation.

As it turns out, I am fairly good at ideas, but I don't have the political capacity - and, to be honest, the political will - to make them reality. Sometimes it's because I don't do the necessary political sell job behind the scenes or with the public. Sometimes it's because I don't want to offend anyone.

Being mayor - even being mayor of Orlando - is a tough job. It takes a lot of invisible work, grunt work, sweaty toil behind the scenes. And I don't like that.

I like the limelight. I like the cameras whirring. I like to make bold statements and cast myself as a "Can Do" guy. But, that's just for show. I'm really a sort of "Can't Do" guy. Of course, as my mother always said, "can't" means "won't."

In the case of AVI, perhaps it's best that I failed. Now, the process of reassessment can continue and people can be given time to adjust to the changes. We can get the necessary legislation passed in Harrisburg to allow them - instead of trying to do it in a bum's rush, as we did this year. We can let homeowners vet the numbers we come up with and allow them time to appeal.

I am sorry for the school district, though. I tried to use AVI as a way of giving the poor, embattled district some financial help. Again, a noble goal.

But, I must admit, I went about it the wrong way. At first, I tried to hide the tax increase nestled inside AVI in language that was both vague and disingenuous.

I now admit what my critics said: it was a side door tax increase.

Later, I made some attempts at convincing people that it was the right thing to do -- to help the district. But, I didn't use my bully pulpit as mayor to do it very well. I didn't work to rally the public behind the idea -- the equation that helping the district today was essential to the future of the city.

In short, I could have done better. I did not. Again, I apologize.

But, please do not expect me to change. I am what I am. I am an honest guy and I have good intentions, but I do not have the taste for battle over the gritty issues.

To be blunt, I much prefer to take bold stands on popular ideas. For instance, I am in favor of "green." I am against sugary drinks. I am dead set against crime and murder.

As a guide to the future, it will be much better to pay attention to what I say, not what I do. Because I don't plan to do a lot -- except angle for a position in the 2nd Obama administration. If there is a second Obama administration.

As a total aside, have any of you been to Disney World lately? What a kick, though I thought that the Pirates of the Caribbean thing was a bit scary.

See you soon,

The Mayor


-- Tom Ferrick



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You can listen to a podcast featuring Senior Editor Tom Ferrick talking about AVI by clicking here.




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