AVI has made us ask all the wrong questions

    For a week, we’ve tried to predict the effect the Actual Value Initiative will have on next year’s property taxes. This exercise has thoroughly consumed us, but I wonder if we’ve thought beyond the story of the moment.

    Have we studied the appeals process that could overturn erroneous assessments?

    Have we thoroughly examined the exceptions being proposed in City Council?

    Have we thought deeply about the homestead exemption that could reward the homeowners who actually live here?

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    Some will say we’ve done so. After all, we’ve posed every possible question and explored each likely scenario. But for me, a lifelong Philadelphian who owns a home in this city, the question that matters most goes well beyond a slight change in my property taxes.

    Looking for important answers

    For me, the only question that matters is this one: What will those taxes pay for?

    If AVI sets our communities free from the scourge of gun violence so that college students aren’t murdered just months before graduation, then by all means, change the system.

    If AVI sends professional and courteous police to investigate when my mother’s apartment is burglarized, then I support it with every fiber of my being.

    If AVI means that a parent can send her 5-year-old daughter to a school where competent, well-trained employees will protect her from harm, then I will shout my support from the rooftops.

    But if not, perhaps we’ve been asking the wrong questions.

    If AVI means that every school in every neighborhood will provide the same quality education I received as a child in the Philadelphia public schools, then I’m in favor of whatever changes it will bring.

    If AVI will sweep the broken liquor bottles and empty drug packets from every playground in the city, then it is well worth the effort.

    If AVI will open every swimming pool every summer and pay for the necessary lifeguards, I believe it will greatly benefit our city.

    But if not, perhaps we’ve been asking the wrong questions.

    If AVI will alleviate the poverty that holds 28 percent of Philadelphians in its grip, it’s worth all the effort we’ve expended.

    If AVI will repair the families torn apart by mass incarceration, it should become a model for the nation.

    If AVI will build the necessary bridges between Philadelphia’s 300,000 ex-offenders and the jobs necessary to make them productive citizens, we should have done it years ago.

    But if not, perhaps we’ve been asking the wrong questions.

    Deafening silence

    There are burdens that we’ve borne for years in this city, and too many of us — from media and government to the communities that are most affected — have remained silent in the face of the suffering. We have not asked why. We have not asked why not. We’ve simply watched entire sections of our city fall by the wayside.

    Still, I’m heartened by the outcry surrounding AVI. Such a united and strident response means we have a pulse. It means we have the ability to think, to analyze, to ask questions, and to act. It means we can expend vast amounts of energy to correct wrongs.

    If nothing else, AVI has shown us what we can do when we believe a problem affects us directly.

    If only we knew the truth: All our city’s problems affect us directly. From unemployed ex-offenders to unkempt playgrounds, from lax police response to lapses in school safety, from crushing poverty to blighted neighborhoods, every problem affects us all.

    If we knew that, we’d respond quickly, just as we have to AVI. But since we haven’t come up with answers to our most pressing problems, I can think of only one reason why.

    Perhaps we’ve been asking the wrong questions.

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