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PHILADELPHIA-Taxes, more than real estate development, were the primary focus of four of the city’s mayoral candidates during a luncheon panel discussion, held at the Union League. While US Congressman Chaka Fattah said he would eliminate the onerous 6.5% business privilege tax and put a 3.2% charge on net profits, former City Councilman Michael Nutter said he would eliminate the gross receipt portion of the BPT over five years and also reduce the city’s net profit tax on businesses.

These two candidates along with local businessman, Tom Knox, are among a crowd of six Democratic candidates, which also includes State Rep. Bob Brady and Dwight Evans. Brady made an early showing to say he could not stay for the forum, and Evans declined to participate citing a scheduling conflict. Businessman Al Taubenberger, the lone Republican candidate, also participated.

Knox referred back to his role in balancing the budget under former Mayor Ed Rendell, and said that was key to reducing taxes. Taubenberger noted a newspaper article that ranked Philadelphia’s tax burden first in the nation, and said he proposed elimination of the BPT by 2014. “Casino revenue represents another opportunity to lower the wage taxes,” he added.

Noting, “25% of the city’s population is below the poverty line,” Fattah said he would build on Rendell’s tax abatements and put the revenue in an affordable housing trust fund. Helping first-time homebuyers would help reduce the poverty rate and cut the “generational cycle.” He also plans to lease the airport long term, as has been done at Chicago’s Midway Airport, which “would generate over $3 billion,” he said. “We could pay $1 billion in debt and invest $2 billion in an earnings program.”

All four candidates also agreed that development is stifled by red tape, and each vowed, with community input, to develop a comprehensive zoning code and streamline the development process. Nutter said, “You’ll hear a loud boom on inauguration day: the implosion of the department of licenses and inspection.” Calling it “a department that has lost focus and lost mission,” he said, “We have to reform and revise the zoning process.”

The TriState Realtors Commercial Alliance, the Buildings Industry Association of Philadelphia and the Greater Philadelphia Association of Realtors sponsored the forum.

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