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Mr. Mayor, we'll pay taxes for services

Ivoted for Michael Nutter for mayor last year because he's an extraordinarily smart man with a deep commitment to open government and bringing Philadelphians into the process of governing their city.

Ivoted for Michael Nutter for mayor last year because he's an extraordinarily smart man with a deep commitment to open government and bringing Philadelphians into the process of governing their city.

I knew that I wouldn't like everything the mayor did, but I thought that, policy disagreements aside, his commitments meant that the voices of ordinary Philadelphians would be heard. And yet, as our new chief executive has dealt with two huge issues in office - where to put casinos, and now a once-in-a-generation budget crisis - what have we seen? Closed-door meetings, silence, secretive rationales and town-hall meetings that provide zero chance for meaningful input into to his decisions.

When the administration has spoken, it has done so with dizzying contradictions. We have heard from the mayor that, as a champion of libraries, he knows how painful these cuts will be.

Meanwhile, his spokesman says they'd already contemplated cutting libraries because there were too many branches in the city. Needless to say, candidate Nutter said no such thing on the campaign trail. Similarly, only after tussles with residents did the administration release its criteria for what libraries were to be cut, only to show that, in many cases, they were ignoring their own rationale.

In fact, it's possible that the administration's overly secretive behavior may even be hiding what are legitimately smart steps they have taken to soften the crisis.

Much was made of the so-called "Freshman 15," a package of innovative budget solutions proposed by our three newest councilmembers. It turns out that most of them had already been put into place by the mayor's budget team. Yet not only did the public not know about these moves, neither did City Council.

Not once has the mayor asked Philadelphians if, in order to keep their libraries open and their fire companies running, they would be willing to pay more in property or wage taxes.

So, working with a national polling firm, we did. We asked Philadelphians a number of questions about taxes versus services, and the results overwhelmingly said, by margins of upward of 6 to 1, that services, rather than lower taxes, were the priority for Philadelphians.

In fact, every alternative, from using casino revenue to fair-market valuation of property to pressuring the Eagles to pay the city back on a loan they owe us, got the same response: Philadelphians are overwhelmingly willing to pay for services, and they want the mayor to slow down.

Other proposals have come fast and furious from around the city, from Dave Davies of the Daily News suggesting that the city could run a one-year deficit to those who suggest we raise money by taxing land rather than buildings to others who wonder why the mayor hasn't taken on patronage-heavy row offices or dealt with inefficient, wasteful agencies like the Redevelopment Authority.

What is the mayor's response to our desire for alternatives?

That the cuts are non-negotiable, happening faster than you can say "due process," and nothing else can work, so don't bother asking.

It appears that not only is he ignoring the willingness of Philadelphians to help, but is substituting tough, long-term battles against entrenched political power with the ones he can instead win quickly. And, meanwhile, meekly riding shotgun on the budget-cut express is a City Council that seems to find little reason to do anything but keep quiet.

AS A YOUNG resident of Philadelphia who happens to have a small-sized megaphone, I don't pretend to have the magic solutions to our crises.

But what I do know is that, within our city, there's a great resolve to step up and solve the problems in front of us, sensibly and equitably.

With layoffs announced and closings looming, it's long past the time for the mayor to heed these calls. *

Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg is a law student at the University of Pennsylvania and editor of