City Controller Alan Butkovitz is ba-ack, and his second report on Philadelphia’s oppressive tax levied on about 4,000 beverages — sugary, diet, carbonated, flavored, etc. — will not bring cheer to the tax enthusiasts.
Winding down his third term as city controller after being defeated in the May primary, Butkovitz is determined to go out like a lion, not a lamb. He’s behaving like a political candidate, and seems unconcerned about making enemies. But which office might he be seeking?
In December, he reported that two dozen city departments had mishandled $1.5 million in petty cash. He also pointed a finger at the Streets Department for falling behind in pothole repairs. A few months earlier, he made former mayor Michael Nutter’s head explode when he accused the city’s Mayor’s Fund for Philadelphia of being a “slush fund” for Nutter’s connected pals.
A harsh critic of the beverage tax, Butkovitz slammed it with reports in September and in October. The net effect of these reports has created an anti-crony, pro-consumer halo around Butkovitz.
Last month, he called the beverage tax a “bait-and-switch,” and said the money for pre-K could have been raised in other ways.
In a survey of 1,600 businesses released Monday, Butkovitz said about 650 of them reported lost revenue that they attributed to the tax, with the majority claiming to have lost 10 percent or more. The tax is set at 1.5 cents per ounce.
Butkovitz’s report followed by a few days a reversal of a beverage tax by Cook County, Ill., which includes Chicago. It was determined that the tax hurt business.
Philly’s beverage tax was passed after months of arm-twisting by a semi-reluctant City Council in June 2016 at the behest of Mayor Kenney, who had opposed a soda tax when he was a Council member.
The tax has survived court challenges so far, but has fallen short of producing the originally predicted revenues.
It is known that Butkovitz met with the American Beverage Association eight weeks before the May primary in which he was beaten by Rebecca Rhynhart, the chief administrative officer for Mayor Kenney, known for his progressive policies.
Butkovitz said he planned to remain in politics, and joked (?) that “no elected official’s job in Philadelphia is safe” until he figures out what he wants to do.
I think it’s unlikely he would take a step back in salary and prestige to run for his former job as a state rep. City Council would be a reduction in rank for a man who has run a city office to become one of 17. In a brief conversation Tuesday afternoon, he agreed with that assessment, and also ruled out a run for Congress. He lives in Bob Brady’s district.
That pretty much puts Jim Kenney in Butkovitz’s sights, even though it is far too early for Butkovitz to announce his plans.
Conventional political wisdom says that after Kenney’s commanding 2015 victory, in which he won a majority of the votes in a contest with five others, he should be unbeatable.
That wisdom is wrong, according to Butkovitz, who says Kenney’s approval ratings are around 53 percent, far below the 85 percent of the vote he won in the 2015 general election for mayor.
Through his actions as controller, Butkovitz has taken on fellow Dems and crafted a portrait of himself as a fearless, more populist Democrat.
Is that a viable alternative?
Given his declared appetite for political combat — and with a score to settle with Kenney — could anyone say Butkovitz will not run for mayor in 2019?