City Controller Alan Butkovitz is a veteran of both local and state politics, but finds himself in a tightening race with challengers Brett Mandel, Mark Zecca and Terrance Tracy — with Mandel being the more aggressive, airing new television ads that have suggested that the School District of Philadelphia’s current fiscal crisis occurred on Butkovitz’s watch and bear his fingerprints.
Butkovitz, in a sit down with the Tribune’s editorial board, defended his record while stating his case for re-election.
“I think we’ve turned it [the City Controller’s office] into a ‘people’s office.’ We made the factual case that resulted in the first disqualification of a contractor for cheating minority subcontractors,” Butkovitz said. “We’ve been on the impact issues since I’ve first came to office. We did a great report about the obstacles facing minority contractors to graduate to full contractors … when I came on the Pension Board, only four percent of the pension assets were managed by minority managers, and now that figure is up to 25 percent.”
Butkovitz’ more current record shows that he has resisted implementation of the controversial real-estate reform and taxing bill known as Actual Value Initiative, or AVI, and spoke up against what Butkovitz believes is city’s lax approach toward collecting taxes. Butkovitz, a Democrat, also put public over partisanship, as Butkovitz led an investigation into the Sheriff’s Office, which led to massive reform and the establishment of a multi-million dollar fund to assist homeowners who lost residences through the sheriff’s office mismanagement.
“We have been constantly a critical examiner of the AVI process. This reassessment was sold as something that would be fair and more accurate, and people expected that taxes would go down for people with low income, and go up for people with higher income,” said Butkovitz, who recently released a Controller’s Analysis on AVI. “I was among the first people to point out the biggest impact of the city was in Grays Ferry, where average tax would go up ten-fold.
“There was a lot of resistance to that idea, because the elites in the city brought the concept, regardless of what the evidence was,” continued Butkovitz. “So, we’ve had quite a lot of fencing over public opinion in the weeks after the federal report … we went to all these community meetings, and I think there was kind of surprise at the number of African American faces engaged in tax revolt, because the expectation was it would be Center City and South Philly that would scream. So people intuitively understood that they were getting cheated, even while the official party line was this is something that would make things fair.
“I would say that part of the campaign has given fuel to the idea that there has to be a $30,000 Homestead Exemption and gentrification relief, because people are literally going to be taxed out of these gentrifying areas.”
To that end, Butkovitz said his office engaged an outside expert to analyze the accuracy of assessment data; Butkovitz claims the administration of Mayor Michael Nutter has said the property values are within 15 percent of what their fair market value is, while Butkovitz said his expert has found that the assessments were off by 112 percent.
“The old assessments were very flawed,” Butkovitz said. “As you get to lower-value properties, the errors become greater, and as zip codes become more and more African-American, they become valued at a higher percentage of market value than they do in Caucasian neighborhoods.”
Butkovitz said he also helped settle issues with illegal constructions in north Philadelphia that also included health regulations that involved pollutants reaching surrounding schoolyards.
While those are certainly worthwhile accomplishments, Butkovitz appears most proud of his work in handling the school district — which flies in the face of accusations made by Butkovitz’ challengers.
“I have been deeply involved as a critic of school management and school fiscal policy since January 2006 when I was elected,” Butkovitz said. “I pushed the school district toward five-year budgeting, and I’ve consistently fought with the district repeatedly about dishonest accounting and financial reporting practices.”
Contact staff writer Damon C. Williams at 215-893-5745 or firstname.lastname@example.org.