Monday, September 1, 2014
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Was Budget Secretary Trying to Stir the Pot?

Charles Zogby, Gov. Corbett’s budget secretary, said he wasn’t really expecting to make news when he told a reporter earlier this week there was talk of giving taxing authority to the unelected members of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission.

Was Budget Secretary Trying to Stir the Pot?

Charles Zogby, Gov. Corbett’s budget secretary, said he wasn’t really expecting to make news when he told a reporter earlier this week there was talk of giving taxing authority to the unelected members of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission.

He said the idea had arisen because of the stalemate between Mayor Nutter and City Council over extending the city’s extra 1 percent sales tax for the benefit of the schools.

Council has refused to even introduce the mayor’s bill to extend the tax. If Council won’t act, Zogby said, maybe the taxing authority should go to the members of the SRC.

On Tuesday, Zogby remained vague about who, exactly, had suggested the alternative, saying only that there had been “various discussions in the Capitol.”

Asked if he was trying to fire a warning shot at Council, he only said “it doesn’t take a genius to see there is some reluctance” to extend the sales tax as proposed.

“At some point, council has to act or it doesn’t,” Zogby said. “If they don’t, I think there are folks are who are prepared to rethink the elements of the package. I don’t think we’re at that point now.”

The School District of Philadelphia is trying to fill a $304 million budget deficit, and the sales tax extension could pump $120 million into the district’s coffers annually, starting in 2014.

Council President Darrell L. Clarke, however, wants to put half of the sales tax extension toward the city’s underfunded pension system and find other new revenue streams for the schools, including a cigarette tax.

All the sides have been talking - Clarke and Mayor Nutter each have made separate trips to Harrisburg recently. The mayor was there on Monday.

By all accounts, the lines of communication remain open between the parties and there is little pressure to resolve the situation before at least the end of the year.

If Zogby’s comments were meant to spur negotiations, there was little public reaction at City Hall Tuesday.

Jane Roh, a spokeswoman for Clarke, said she wouldn’t respond to his comments and gave a standard statement about the need to find a steady and fair stream of funding for the schools.

Mark McDonald, a spokesman for Mayor Nutter, was succinct in his reaction to Zogby:

“We don’t know anything about this,” he said.

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