Poll: Philadelphians do not like AVI, taxes in general

An interior view of the Pew Charitable Trusts' building in Washington.

News flash: Philadelphians do not want more taxes. 

That might sound silly, but it actually is news.

According to a poll released today by the Pew Charitable Trusts, Philadelphians have done something of an about-face this year over a fundamental question about government: Would you rather have more taxes and more services, or less taxes and less services?

Last year, 49 percent of respondents asked for more taxes and services, while 42 percent favored less taxes and services. This year, 41 percent wanted more government, and 50 percent wanted less.

Larry Eichel, director of Pew's Philadelphia Program, said that result probably has something to do with anger over the School District's funding crisis. The tax questions were asked in the same late-summer survey that resulted in recent Pew reports highlighting anger over the state of public education, the performance of city officials and the direction of the city in general. 

"This sort of sour mood about the city and certainly about city government - we think, certainly one cause is the school situation," Eichel said.

Next year, it will be interesting to see whether all this pessimism is an outlier due to the schools fiasco or a new normal for the city. 

Additionally, about half of those surveyed are unaware of the Actual Value Initiative, Mayor Nutter's property-tax reform effort, and most of those who are aware think it makes the tax system less fair than the status quo. 

Only 52 percent of the 1,605 residents surveyed said they had heard of AVI, in which the city reassessed every property in an attempt to correct a widely criticized system of real estate taxes. The low level of awareness is surprising because the issue has been debated intensely for two years and continues to receive attention. 

Of those who knew about AVI, only 26 percent said it was making the tax system more fair, and 44 percent said it was making it less fair. 

The study also asked residents whether they favor lowering Philly's unusually high wage tax burden, which advocates say is a key to unlocking business growth here. Sure, they said. Sixty-five percent of respondents said they would like to see that happen.

But what about replacing that revenue with an increased property-tax burden? Hell no. Fifty-nine percent said they don't want property taxes raised for that purpose.