Philly-That Toddlin’ Town, Council’s defense of BRT fools no one

    Philadelphia is a sports city, the Phillies and the Eagles of course, but there’s a third spectator sport that has fascinated Philadelphians for decades: following the City Hall circus.

    What is it about this time? Taxes. Property taxes. The system is so entangled that any attempt at reform now needs it’s own reform says WHYY’s Chris Satullo in his weekly audio column Center Square.

    Listen: [audio: satullo20091101.mp3]

    Sometimes, Philadelphia City Hall reminds me of a 2-year-old playing hide and seek.

    • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

    This is toddler logic: if I sit in a corner, cover my eyes and scrunch down real small, nobody can see me.

    Actually, we can see you. And what we see is pathetic.

    What we see, in Year Two of what was supposed to be a reform era, are the same old petty corruptions.

    Today’s depressing case in point: the city’s Board of Revision of Taxes.

    Philadelphia has a real estate tax, which supports vital services such as schools. The BRT’s job is to set the property valuations against which this tax is calculated.

    In much of Philly, any resemblance between these assessed values and a house’s actual market value is purely accidental. You could get a fairer set of valuations if you hired rhesus monkeys to throw darts at a wall.

    The BRT is a classic Philly cesspool of incompetence. Philly homeowners have long known.

    BRT tried to fix its mess through a big revaluation project. But the agency botched that redo so badly that the city’s budget director says work is worthless. Clearly, the BRT needs to be blown up.

    Mayor Nutter agrees; so do some on Council. They’re working on an overhaul that would do some sensible things. But one thing Council members show little taste for is curing the BRT’s screaming patronage problem. Eighty of its employees are paid by the school district, a gambit to evade Civil Service and permits the workers to do overt political work. In other words, the BRT is hack heaven.

    Some Council members balk at cutting out the patronage jobs. Why? Because those BRT workers are their loyal election foot soldiers. Council members wax eloquent about the hacks” “volunteer” service to democracy. Yep, volunteer – unless you count the light-duty BRT jobs they get as compensation.

    Council is like the toddler in the corner, fooling no one.

    We can see you, people. So can the rest of the state, which already views any Philadelphia plea for help with a jaundiced eye.

    Yes we can see you. And what we see is the same old, same old.

    WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal