Council plans to pass the city’s budget on Thursday and begin the summer recess on time, putting the onus on state lawmakers to approve a cigarette tax that would help the School District of Philadelphia avoid draconian cuts.
Council President Darrell L. Clarke said Tuesday that he was “an eternal optimist,” and hoped the state would approve the tax, which would generate $46 million in the next fiscal year. Coupled with improved tax collections and other measures, Clarke said, the city would provide more than $74 million for the schools, “far exceeding” the school district’s request for $60 million.
The $2-a-pack cigarette tax, however, faces an uphill battle to win approval in Harrisburg. Council approved the tax unanimously, but needs state permission to enact it.
“From our perspective, we have done our part,” Clarke said.
If the state does not approve the cigarette tax, Council would have to go to “plan B,” which Clarke refused to describe. Council cannot raise or create a new tax after the start of the fiscal year on July 1, so money would have to be found elsewhere in the city budget and transferred to the schools in the fall.
With Council wrapping up its budget business this week, the proposed increase in the liquor-by-the-drink tax can officially be declared dead. Raising that tax had been another potential avenue to secure money for the schools, but there was not enough support in Council even to move the proposal out of committee.
Council still could pass a bill sponsored by Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez to increase the business Use and Occupancy tax for the second year in a row. Sánchez said she had not decided whether to call for a vote, which would put some of her colleagues in a difficult position of choosing between funding schools and angering business constituents fighting another tax hike.
The School District of Philadelphia is counting on at least $60 million from the city, $120 million from the state and union concessions to close a $304 million deficit, avoiding the lay-offs of nearly 3,800 teachers, guidance counselors and aides and the cutting of education programs.
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