Days of demagoguery ahead

    Tomorrow, Mayor Nutter will give his annual budget address, and he’ll have to address an issue as simple and basic as any a mayor can deal with, but one that is so complicated this year that it will be widely misunderstood.

    The issue is property taxes.

    A while back, after some big newspaper stories and public outcry over how faulty some of the city’s property assessments are, the mayor effectively froze assessments until the city got a better way of evaluating properties.

    Then two years ago, City Council and the mayor approved a “temporary” two-year tax increase of 9.9 percent to ease the city budget crisis.

    Over the next year, we’re supposed to see the “temporary” tax increase expire and a new property assessment system put in place, which should (1) end the ridiculous two-step system we have for determining property values for taxation and (2) end the freeze and let property assessments catch up with real growth (or decline) in property values.

    If you’re still following this, you have more patience than most people for trying to understanding the process.

    With this many moving parts, and an issue as politically potent as property tax bills in play, the situation invites demagoguery. It’s like high gas prices. There’s little percentage in a politician talking honestly about energy markets. It’s better politics to blame incumbents for what you’re paying at the pump and promise $2 a gallon gas.

    And when many of the players involved in this mess are potential mayoral candidates, there’s all the incentive in the world to grandstand.

    The point: If this mayor and his team make a good-faith effort to reform our screwed-up assessment system and make things more fair and transparent for generations, they should get some credit for that.

    And demagogues who oppose a basic reform for cheap political gain should be called on it.

    Let the games begin.

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