Philly legislators want sit-down with tobacco bosses

Two Philly legislators today called on leaders of the nation's two largest tobacco companies to meet about their lobbying against a cigarette tax to fund the city's public schools.

State Senators Anthony Williams and Shirley Kitchen sent letters to Martin Barrington, CEO of the Altria Group, and Susan Cameron, CEO of R.J. Reynolds, asked for a sit-down with them and their Harrisburg lobbyists.

The Daily News reported Thursday that those lobbyists had pushed for a five-year "sunset provision" to be inserted in pending legislation that would put a $2-per-pack tax on cigarettes sold in Philadelphia. 

State Sen. Jake Corman, a Centre County Republican, added that provision. The Senate then sent the amended legislation to the state House, which won't return from summer break until Aug. 4 to consider it.

"After much hard work over the last two years, we were very hopeful that this legislation would finally pass both in our House and Senate," Williams and Kitchen wrote. "However, it has come to our attention that you and your agents have been meeting with our colleagues about this legislation, without involving the Philadelphia Delegation members. You may or may not be aware or concerned about the impact of these delays within our communities."

The tax, anticipated to bring in $1.6 million per week, could raise $45 million this year and $83 million in the first full year of enforcement. The Philadelphia School District has a $93 million budget deficit.

Kitchen is the chairwoman of the Philadelphia Delegation in the Senate.  Williams sponsored the tax legislation.

The Altria Group, maker of Marlboro, Parliament and Virginia Slims cigarette brands, is the nation's largest tobacco company.  R.J. Reynolds, maker of Camel, Pall Mall and Kool, is the second largest.

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