Seventy: Come on out to abolish the BRT

The Committee of Seventy is leading the get-out-the-vote against the Board of Revision of Taxes, on Friday urging voters to come out in force on May 18 to vote the embattled BRT out of existence.

The seven-member board refusing to go quietly, challenging Mayor Nutter's authority to take over their assessment functions (which has already happened) and abolish the board (which voters are being asked to do in the May 18 charter-change ballot). An agreement with the board to shift responsibility for assessments to the administration expired this week and the board refused to extend it while a lawsuit to preserve the board is pending.

"Chutzpah doesn’t do the BRT’s actions justice," Ellen Mattleman Kaplan, Seventy's vice president and policy director, said in an email.

Here's the release:

PHILADELPHIA – January 7, 2010 – The Committee of Seventy urges Philadelphia voters to turn
out in unprecedented numbers to support the ballot question on May 18 that would abolish the
disgraced Board of Revision of Taxes.
“The voters have a rare, direct opportunity to bring about reform and send the message that
they are sick of government that fails them,” said Zachary Stalberg, President and CEO of the
non‐partisan organization that champions effective government.
The BRT, an independent agency whose seven members are appointed by the Board of Judges,
usually with input from leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties, came under
blistering attack after the Philadelphia Inquirer exposed decades of gross mismanagement and
political deal‐making. Mayor Nutter removed its authority to assess the value of all city‐owned
properties in October 2009. The BRT now only hears assessment appeals.
The Committee of Seventy argued for months that the BRT‐run assessment and appeals system
severely prejudiced Philadelphia property owners and needed to be changed.
Although nominees will be chosen in the primary election for Governor, U.S. Senator and most
of Pennsylvania’s General Assembly, interest in the May election seemed low until the BRT
controversy flared up again. Five members of the BRT have filed a lawsuit to block the May 18
ballot question.
Eight Penn Center 1628 JFK Boulevard Suite 1002 Philadelphia, PA 19103
p. 215‐557‐3600 f. 215‐557‐3608
“The audacious actions by the BRT to regain the right to control real estate tax bills in this city
should put an end to voter apathy,” Stalberg said. “Imagine what Pennsylvania voters could
have done if they had the opportunity to make fundamental change in the immediate wake of
the pay raise scandal or Bonusgate.”
The May 18 ballot question would permanently kill off the BRT and replace it with two new
agencies that are “certain to be more accountable,” Stalberg said. In an unusual display of
harmony, Mayor Nutter and City Council worked together to put the ballot question before the
May 18 voters.
Noting that the number of newly‐registered voters is trending low, Stalberg urged all eligible
Philadelphia voters to ensure their right to vote. The voter registration deadline is Monday,
April 19. Eligible voters can also apply for an absentee ballot until May 11. The forms for both
can be downloaded from the Committee of Seventy’s website: Voters can
also call Seventy at 215.557.3600 to learn where to pick up the appropriate forms.
Seventy supported the “memorandum of understanding” that took property assessments away
from the BRT. But BRT members have now done a turnaround on their agreement with the
“Their refusal to stick with the deal,” Stalberg said, “is the clearest evidence yet that they do
not have the interests of Philadelphians at heart.”
Stalberg said that the Committee of Seventy is looking into joining the city in opposing the
lawsuit filed by the BRT that seeks to deprive the voters of the right to decide its fate. The city
just filed its response to the suit, which was filed in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Eight Penn Center 1628 JFK Boulevard Suite 1002 Philadelphia, PA 19103
p. 215‐557‐3600 f. 215‐557‐3608
“This lawsuit by the BRT is completely within character,” Stalberg said. “The Board is wasting
taxpayers’ money and simultaneously trying to do them harm. And, to make matters worse,
these officials won’t even come clean and explain their actions.”
City Council will hold a hearing on Thursday, April 15 on a Nutter administration proposal to
reduce the annual salary of BRT members from $70,000 to $18,000 – the minimum permitted
under state law. (As the head of the BRT, Charlesretta Meade currently earns $75,000.)
A member of the public can sign up to testify at that hearing by calling the office of City
Council President Anna Verna at 215‐686‐3412.
“The Committee of Seventy supports the sharp pay cut,” Stalberg said. “Given the track record,
most Philadelphians would say the BRT members shouldn’t get a dime.”

The Committee of Seventy is a non‐partisan organization fighting for clean and effective
government, fair elections and informed citizens. See for more information.

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