UPDATE: Cigarette Tax Vote Canceled

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[Update 2:30 pm] The Inquirer reports that next week’s Pennsylvania House session to approve the cigarette tax has been canceled.

Instead, the chamber will return at the end of its summer break, or September 15. In the interim, House leaders are apparently attempting to work out an alternative solution to infuse cash into the schools, including possibly advancing money to the city.

Left unexplained: How they’d implement that alternative solution if they’re not back until September 15.

Still: The good news? Even the Republican House doesn’t want to see Philly public schools fail completely on their watch. The bad news? They don’t seem to think it’s especially urgent to find a solution to the problems at hand.

[Original 5:23 am] This is why nothing in Harrisburg is done until it’s done.

Members of the Pennsylvania House were expected to reconvene next week with one purpose really in mind: Pass a bill giving Philadelphia the authority to raise the cigarette tax and give the resulting revenues to a city school district that says it can’t open without the funding.

But the Inquirer today reports that anti-tax Republicans in the House are getting cold feet. Some are even saying they won’t call off vacations to come back to Harrisburg for the vote. There are questions about whether the tax can even be passed now.

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Philadelphia School District Publishes List of Employee Salaries

Interested to know what Philadelphia School District superintendent William Hite makes? That one I can answer for you: $270,000 a year. Interested to know what your teacher friend makes? You’ll have to look that up yourself.

This week, the district published a full list of teacher information, complete with salaries, titles, pay rates, and representation. I just looked up a friend I went out for drinks with recently, and I decided I’ll be paying for drinks next time we hang out.

The file is available as a zipped CSV, or comma-separate values, which stores tabular data in plain text format.

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Hite Sets Aug. 15 Deadline for Cigarette Tax

William Hite, Superintendent of Philadelphia Schools, in the Pennsylvania Capitol meeting with Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and state legislators seeking funds for Philadelphia Schools during state budget talks Sunday, June 29, 2014, in Harrisburg, Pa. AP Photo | Bradley C. Bower

William Hite, Superintendent of Philadelphia Schools, in the Pennsylvania Capitol meeting with Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and state legislators seeking funds for Philadelphia Schools during state budget talks Sunday, June 29, 2014, in Harrisburg, Pa. AP Photo | Bradley C. Bower

OK: William Hite can wait to Aug. 4 to find out if Philly will get a $2-a-pack cigarette tax to fund its schools. But he can’t wait much longer.

The city’s school superintendent said Wednesday that if no tax passes by Aug. 15, he’ll begin layoffs and consider delaying the fall start of classes.

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For Schools, “A Vortex of Political Hell”

Every so often, when Mayor Nutter opens his mouth, a little gem tumbles out that captures matters perfectly. Yesterday, it was a five carat diamond.

“We are caught in a vortex of political hell with no way out,” Nutter told reporters. Later, he mentioned ping pong.

At issue is the cigarette tax for city schools, which is a questionable policy on its own, but also the closest thing the district has right now to a lifeline. Yesterday morning, it looked like a lock. But that was before the State Senate voted to put its growing feud with the House of Representatives and the tender concerns of the tobacco lobby ahead of the School District of Philadelphia and its 191,000 students, adding a five-year sunset provision to the tax and putting its final passage at risk.

How did this happen? Didn’t the Senate approve the tax sunset-free on June 30?

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Cigarette Tax Stalled; School Funding in Danger

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This is why you don’t count your chickens until they’re hatched: Yes, both the Pennsylvania House and the Pennsylvania Senate have given approval to bills allowing Philly to raise its cigarette tax by $2 per pack to fund local schools — but they haven’t approved the same version of the bill so far. And that’s turning out to be a big problem.

The House version ran into a Senate buzzsaw on Tuesday — with the upper chamber balking at adding provisions in the bill that would allow some Pennsylvania cities to raise their hotel taxes. Senators began amending the House bill (it now includes a five-year sunset provision on the cigarette tax) but it’s uncertain the House will return from its break to pass the revised version — which, if not would leave Philly in limbo — or whether, in fact, it would approve those revisions: Certainly, it seems House Republicans will resist approving the additional hotel taxes. Which means getting the two chambers to back the same bill may be difficult.

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A Hollow Victory for Philly Schools

Dave Davies nailed it, as he so often does, when he described last week’s surprise deal enabling Philadelphia to tax cigarettes and send the proceeds to the schools as simultaneously “awful” and a “stunning, come-from-behind legislative win.”

The $2-a-pack cigarette tax looked dead right up until Wednesday night, when a surprise amendment offered by State Rep. John Taylor-the lone Republican in Philadelphia’s 34-strong delegation to Harrisburg-won enough support for the initiative to enable it to pass the tax-averse House. 119-90

Considering the alternative, there’s little doubt that this was a win for the city (and a reminder that a 100-percent Democratic delegation is clearly not in the city’s best interest). Parents, students and educators owe Taylor, the rest of the delegation, Mayor Nutter and Council President Clarke (all of whom lobbied hard for this) their gratitude.

But let’s look at what was won.

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Budget Omnibus: Pa. House Passes Cigarette Tax

Lots of moving parts to the state’s budget situation these days, so let’s try to take them in some semblance of order.

• First: The Pennsylvania House on Wednesday night authorized Philly’s cigarette tax, a measure designed to help fund city schools at something like full strength.  “The state House of Representatives voted 119-80 on Wednesday night to send the bill back to the Senate, which approved a similar version earlier this week,” AP reports. “Philadelphia officials say that imposing a $2 per-pack city tax on cigarette sales will help fill a crippling schools budget deficit. Without the money, they say schools won’t be fit to open in the fall.”

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Philly Cigarette Tax Stalls in PA House

House Republicans are refusing to amend a state budget bill to include authorization for a Philly cigarette tax that would help City Hall make up the shortfall in the city’s school budget. Mayor Nutter said Tuesday night’s result means Philly schools must prepare for layoffs.

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Philly Schools Pass Placeholder Budget

William Hite, Superintendent of Philadelphia Schools, in the Pennsylvania Capitol meeting with Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and state legislators seeking funds for Philadelphia Schools during state budget talks Sunday, June 29, 2014, in Harrisburg, Pa. AP Photo | Bradley C. Bower

William Hite, Superintendent of Philadelphia Schools, in the Pennsylvania Capitol meeting with Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and state legislators seeking funds for Philadelphia Schools during state budget talks Sunday, June 29, 2014, in Harrisburg, Pa. AP Photo | Bradley C. Bower

Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission is now playing a high-stakes game of chicken with the state.

Newsworks reports:

By unanimous vote, the Philadelphia School Reform Commission passed a budget Monday night that includes a $93 million placeholder for money that it hopes comes through if a political logjam in Harrisburg breaks.

Short of that, district leaders say they’d have to choose between laying off 1,300 employees, or shortening the school year.

The district can still avoid the bulk of these cuts if lawmakers in Harrisburg find a way to agree on a few key issues, chiefly, allowing Philadelphia to create a new $2-per-pack tax on cigarettes sold within city limits.

The Pennsylvania Senate did pass the cigarette bill on Monday but there’s apparently no current plans to bring it forward in the House.

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Philly Schools Held Hostage to Pension Vote

We told you Friday that Philly Democrats were being offered a choice — they could get school funding, but only if they tossed their labor union allies under the bus, either with a liquor privatization vote or support for a bill that will overhaul pensions for state workers. Over the weekend, the trade crystalized: Without support for the pension vote, Philly Dems can forget ed funding help.

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