Bill Would Send Casino Dollars to Schools

For the second year in a row, state legislators have proposed using revenue from casino gaming to solve a School District of Philadelphia funding crisis.

State Rep. Michael H. O’Brien (D., Philadelphia) said his bill would redirect $86.4 million in tax revenue from gaming to the schools without costing the state any money. This “revenue neutral” approach, he said, was the only way to find more money for the schools, given the “atmosphere” in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

Last year, state Rep. Rosita Youngblood (D., Philadelphia) led the charge to redirect casino revenue, which goes to every county except Philadelphia for property tax reductions. In Philadelphia, the money is applied toward wage tax cuts.

Last year, the Nutter administration opposed the move because doing so would have opened a hole in the city’s budget that would have to be filled with wage tax increases or service cuts. The mayor also has been pushing for more wage tax cuts, seeking a commitment from Council to slash the tax in each of the next five years.

The wage tax is now 3.928 for residents and 3.4985 for non-residents working in the city.

But O’Brien said it was “time put a commonsense proposal on the table.”

The House last week passed a budget that included more than $30 million in new school funding for Philadelphia. With the casino revenue, O’Brien said, the state would be sending $118.4 million to the city’s schools, nearly the full $120 million the district had requested from the state.

The district also is seeking $60 million from the city and union concessions to fill a $304 million deficit and avoid nearly 3,800 lay-offs and cutting education programming.

O’Brien said his bill is essentially the same as the bill introduced last year.

“The only difference is that the School District of Philadelphia is roughly $300 million short,” he said.

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