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Property, Wages, or...? Stakeholders Argue Philadelphia's Tax Policy

By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Academics and politicians gathered today at the Pennsylvania Convention Center for a discussion on a topic everyone hates: Philadelphia taxes.

Some said the city should boost property taxes and cut business taxes, to stem job loss.

The discussion, titled "Philadelphia Taxes -- Past, Present and Future." was organized by the Pew Charitable Trusts and Temple University's Center on Regional Politics.

Some panelists said the city is too reliant on taxing things that can move -- like businesses and jobs -- and should be more reliant on taxing things that don't move, like properties.

"We're excessively dependent on wage and business income," said Paul Levy, who heads the Center City District business improvement zone.

"The overall tax structure needs to change," agrees Stephen Tang, CEO of the University City Science Center. "The reality is, we're addicted to the wage tax."

Along with others, Tang admitted that shifting will be difficult.

"To wean ourselves off of that process is not going to be easy," he said. "And I think that's where we need political will from City Council."

Another panelist, economic consultant Joel Naroff, wishes the shift to a greater reliance on property taxes was being done concurrent with the move to the new AVI assessment system. In his words, "This was the perfect time to start the switchover."

But the mayor's finance director, Rob Dubow, disagreed. He said AVI should not be coupled with a new tax policy that is more reliant on the property component.

"There is enough anxiety and confusion about what we're doing with AVI," he said. "To layer on top of that an increase would make it so much more complicated, and make it harder to achieve."

Pennsylvania state representative John Taylor embraced the concept of more reliance on property taxes, but agreed with Dubow that it should not be linked to AVI:

"The shift cannot be dramatic. Until AVI settles down and we have a sense of how that's going to play out, I don't think we can make a dramatic shift this year," Taylor said.

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