Attacking the BRT: A misstep by Mayor Nutter?

How many enemies does one Mayor need?

Two months ago, I wrote that Mayor Nutter seemed to be shifting his political strategy. In the early part of his administration, he was unwilling to pick any major fights. He talked tough about reform, but rarely backed up those words with concrete action. That changed with his budget proposal, which targets municipal unions, City Council entitlements, and seeks to hike property-taxes by double digits.

Now, I'm starting to wonder if Mayor Nutter has bitten off more than he can chew. The latest example? His call for the members of the Board of Revision of Taxes resign. Nutter's statement, which was rejected by the BRT almost immediately, came in response to a series of Philadelphi Inquirer stories exposing widespread patronage and corruption within the agency.

Of course, Mayor Nutter is right. The BRT is a complete mess and needs to be radically overhauled or abolished. But being right doesn't always translate into being politically smart. For a variety of reasons, this latest battle could prove to be a major misstep.

Nutter has no real power over the BRT. He can't force any of the board members to resign (they are appointed by city judges) and has limited options to impact their budget. Both Nutter and City Councilman Bill Green have proposed legislation to dissolve the agency, but that could take months to become law. As a result, the mayor could look weak at a time when he needs to be strong for his fights with City Council and the municipal unions.

However, the failure to reform the BRT through press conferences might have a far more dire consequence: It could significantly damage Nutter's proposal to raise property-taxes. If the BRT cannot be trusted to fairly asses property values, how can the city rely on closing the budget gap by increasing such an unfair tax? Voicing no confidence in the BRT but absolute confidence in increasing real estate taxes seems to be a troublesome position at best. The recent revelations about the BRT could be used as a loaded gun to shoot down the proposal.

There would have been nothing wrong with Nutter simply criticizing the BRT and even calling for major reform. However, his went nuclear on the board and demanded their resignation. By putting the bar so high, Nutter may be setting himself up for failure in more ways than one.

What do you think? Has Mayor Nutter picked the wrong fight? Or can he handle it all?