With much of Gov. Tom Corbett's Philadelphia public-school "rescue package" still in limbo — including a proposed $50 million loan against the proposed extension of a 1-percent city sales tax increase — Council President Darrell Clarke put forward a plan today that he claims would not only exceed the School Reform Commission's request for $180 million, but also help fund the City's languishing pension plan.
A major source of revenue in Clarke's plan comes from a $2-per-pack tax on cigarettes. Although state authorizing legislation for the proposed tax did not make it out of the General Assembly during budget season, Clarke believes the issue is not dead. "I would like to see it revisited in a very meaningful, aggressive way," he says, seemingly unconcerned by the resistance from Harrisburg and industry lobbyists. If passed, the tax is projected to generate roughly $80 million from fiscal year 2015 onward. It could even put $46.4 million into School District coffers for the current fiscal year, despite the late notice. "If Harrisburg comes back in the fall and says you can implement a $2-per-pack cigarette tax, I guarantee you, we'll figure out a way to do it," Clarke says.
In Clarke's proposal, school funds would still come from the extension of an additional 1 percent sales tax, but instead of diverting all of the estimated $135 million to the School District, half of the money would go to the City's pension plan. "If we don't fix our local pension problem we're going to be looking at a School District of Philadelphia type of scenario for the City of Philadelphia," Clarke says.
Otherwise, most of Clarke's plan is in line with what has already been proposed by Gov. Corbett: There's a one-time infusion of $45 million from the Federal government, an education subsidy from the state of $15.9 million each year and $28 million generated annually by beefed-up tax-delinquency collection efforts.
Clarke's plan even requests additional funding from the state to the tune of $45 million each year starting in FY 15, whether through charter school reimbursements, grants or some other means.
The majority of Council supports the plan, says Clarke, and he has even discussed it with Mayor Nutter, although he declined to comment on the nature of their meeting.
With schools due to open on Sept. 9, the clock is ticking. "We can't simply sit by and not talk about strategies," says Clarke, "the City Council should be part of the conversation."
Correction: We originally reported that Clarke's proposal would not request additional funding from the state in the future. Clarke's office explained that he is indeed asking the state to contribute an additional $45 million each year.
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