Corbett's school funding package has some elected officials feeling disappointed

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ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Gov. Corbett: "As governor, I am committed to finding a long-term solution for the Philadelphia School District that is focused on students and fiscally responsible for taxpayers."

Despite the state legislature's inaction on a proposal to create a new $2 per pack tax on cigarettes at the close of budget season yesterday, Mayor Nutter is not prepared to say its dead.

But it is. 

When asked if he was disappointed, Nutter said, "We want to get as much as we can, that is certainly a potentially large funding source. I'm not prepared to declare where it is one way or another. Everything is in a state of flux."

The cigarette tax, which City Council approved in June would have provided $46 million to Philadelphia schools in the first year. But Republican state lawmakers opted against passing enabling legislation yesterday that would have allowed the city to enact the tax.

The school district requested $60 million from the city, $120 million from the state and $133 million from its unions to fill a $304 million funding gap.

Council concluded it's budget season nearly two weeks ago and with the cigarette tax dead that leaves Nutter's $28 million in promised tax collections as the city's contribution to the distressed school district.

Gov. Corbett's plan includes more than $140 million in funding for Philly schools, but it is largely funded through borrowing and has left some local elected officials feeling disappointed. 

"It demonstrates that when we begin to talk about school funding this year, we have to focus on the elements we can control," said Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez, who fought to get her colleagues to support an increase to a business tax known as use-and-occupancy which would have raised roughly $30 million for schools. "It can't be left to the political whims in Harrisburg."

The city did not need state authorization to increase that tax, but it faced some opposition in Council and from the Mayor who argued the tax was increased last year to fund schools and the measure would hurt businesses. Quinones-Sanchez said mostly big businesses who are set to see a tax break under the city's new property-tax system would have felt the increase because the bill included an exemption for small businesses.

Philadelphia's school district received the least in increased state aid and Quinones-Sanchez called that "a slap in the face."

"All of the districts are worthy and deserve it, but so are we."

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