A poll released Tuesday by The Pew Charitable Trusts revealed Philadelphians are skeptical about the Actual Value Initiative, a citywide property tax assessment overhaul starting this year under which real estate taxes will be based on properties' true market value, rather than on a predefined rate.
Perhaps most shocking was the revelation that nearly half – 48 percent – of respondents said they'd never even heard of AVI, which the poll called "one of the most heavily debated city issues during the previous two years."
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"I certainly understand that a lot of people don't have the time and inclination to follow what's going on in the city closely and a lot of people don't own property and probably think, for that reason, AVI doesn't have much impact on them; but having said all that, this was an issue that had been out there for several years," Pew Philadelphia Research Initiative project director Larry Eichel said.
"It got a tremendous amount of coverage in the press and public officials were talking about it; therefore, the number was lower than I expected."
Of those residents who had heard of AVI, 44 percent said they believed the shift would make real estate taxes less fair, while 26 percent said they felt it would make taxes fairer.
That figure was virtually flipped among respondents with family incomes over $100,000.Forty-eight percent of respondents in that demographic said the change would make taxes fairer, while 30 percent said it would make taxes less fair.
The poll further noted that, "on the whole, Philadelphians appear to view taxes and government less favorably than they did in the four previous years that Pew has polled residents in the city."
Though in past Pew polls, Philadelphians have been roughly split over whether they prefer higher taxes and more government services or lower taxes and fewer services, this year, only 41 percent opted for higher taxes and more services, while 50 percent preferred the opposite.
The poll noted the shift came after Philadelphia has in recent years increased its property and sales tax rates without significantly expanding services, including those administered by its ailing city schools.
"This is the third report we've put out for the survey," Eichel said.
"As we've talked about in some of the previous reports, there's just a general sourness to the mood of the city. I think that shows up in the question as well, and clearly the school situation has something to do with that sourness. I'm not saying it's the only cause, but it's clearly part of it."
The poll also revealed that, while the majority of Philadelphians said they liked the idea of cutting wage and business taxes to create jobs, respondents were overwhelmingly against raising property taxes to make up for revenue that could be lost from the shift.
"I think it certainly shows people in the business community and other civic leaders who think high wage and business taxes are an obstacle to economic development, that they have a big educational job in front of them, if they really want to change the city's tax structure," Eichel said.
"The public obviously, at the moment, doesn't like the idea of shifting the tax burden to property taxes."
By the numbers
>> 52% of Philadelphians said they'd heard or read anything about AVI, while 48% said they were unaware of the property tax shift.
>> 44% of residents who were aware of AVI said they believed it would make real estate taxes less fair, while 26% said they felt it would make taxes more fair.
>> 67% of Philadelphians said the tax change would make no difference in their plans to stay in the city or move elsewhere, while 22% said they would be less likely to remain in the city and 8% said they'd be more likely to stay.
>> 50% of Philadelphians said they'd prefer to have lower taxes and fewer city services, while 41% said they'd prefer the opposite.
>> That was a change from 2012, when 49% of respondents said they'd favor higher taxes and more city services, while 42% said they'd prefer lower taxes and fewer city services.
>> 65% of Philadelphians said they liked the idea of cutting wage and business taxes to create jobs, while 26% were not in favor of the plan.
>> However, 59% of residents did not favor raising property taxes to help make up for the revenue lost from wage and business taxes, while just 33% agreed with the proposal.