UPDATE: Cigarette Tax Vote Canceled

Will Philly schools get the money they need?



[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.

Fueling that question was an unusual statement from two key Republican legislators from York — Majority Whip Stan Saylor and Seth Grove — complaining that the legislature was effectively handing Philadelphia a tax that would allow it to avoid raising property taxes, while failing to do anything to assist other school districts.

Grove said Wednesday that a cigarette-tax proposal that addresses only Philadelphia schools “leaves a bad taste in my mouth.”

He said the proposal helped one corner of the state without addressing rising property taxes in districts elsewhere.

“I plan to advocate for a comprehensive approach,” Grove said. “An overwhelming majority of members want to see a comprehensive solution.”

Of course, the time to seek a “comprehensive solution” might’ve been earlier in the now-completed legislative session, when the burden of property taxes, the challenges facing districts across the state, and Philly’s desperation were all pretty much just as apparent as they are now.

In any case, here is where it’s good to remember that Philly Superintendent William Hite has set an Aug. 15th deadline for finding out if the tax passed. If not by that date, he said, the district will send out layoff notices and consider whether to delay the start of school. It’s always got to be a cliffhanger.