Storm gathering in Council over taxes

Mayor Nutter wants to temporarily increase property-taxes and the sales tax to deal with the $1.4 billion hole in the city budget. Today, City Council held the first of many hearings on the plan. Based on the questions asked by Council members, there will be a lot of resistance to his proposal. Throughout the hearing, there were glimpses of the alternatives that Council might push instead of simply hiking property-taxes.

The first came from Councilman Bill Greenlee, who is usually a reliable ally for Nutter. Asking about the property-tax hike, Greenlee expressed concern about seniors, poor people, and those on a fixed income. He asked if the administration would consider an exemption for low-income homeowners. Clay Armbrister, Nutter's chief of staff, said they were willing to think about it. Since Philadelphia has one of the highest rates of low-income home ownership in the country, that could potentially apply to a lot of people.

The most direct defiance came, predictably, from Councilman Bill Green. He challenged the administration's assertion that raising the wage tax would be politically problematic in Harrisburg. Green also expressed his belief that “nothing should be off the table” and increasing the wage tax should be strongly considered to better spread the burden. Given that Nutter has made clear he opposes increasing the wage tax, expect Green and other critics of the administration to push this angle throughout the budget hearings.

Finally, Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez called on the administration to consider increasing business taxes. She wants to take a hard look at the gross receipts portion of the Business Privilege Tax and explore ways to make big corporations pay more. Quiñones-Sánchez specifically called out Wal-Mart and Coors as two companies that do a lot of business in the city but don't pay much in the way of taxes.

It's becoming more and more clear that Council is dissatisfied with Nutter's budget proposal. However, simply saying no is not enough. In the coming weeks, opponents of Nutter's plan will have to come together around alternatives. Without a competing vision, it's unlikely anyone will really be able to stop the Mayor's push for raising property and sales taxes.