Cigarette Tax Tops Legislative Agenda

Politicians optimistic Philly school-funding measure will pass.

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The Pennsylvania Legislature returns from its summer break today, ready to take up some unfinished business: A cigarette tax that Philly school officials say is needed to provide the funding to stay open this year.

KYW Newsradio reports there is optimism the bill will finally get approval:

Erik Arneson, spokesman for the Senate majority leader, Chester Republican Dominic Pileggi, says there are active discussions to resolve the dispute.

“There’s no specific agreement as to the final shape of the legislation at this point,” he says, “but everybody is very optimistic that it will get done [and] it will get done quickly.”

One problem? The House wants a “clean” bill, while the Senate has already passed a version larded down with a number of amendments regarding unrelated matters. Newsworks reports that makes Philly officials nervous:

Meanwhile, Philadelphia School District leaders are hoping these disagreements don’t again gum up the works. If cigarette tax revenue doesn’t start flowing by Oct. 1, the resource-deficient district will need to make additional cuts. That could include laying off more than 1 ,000 employees – causing class sizes to skyrocket districtwide.

Have lawmakers taken that threat seriously?

“In my opinion, no,” said Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia, who authored the cigarette tax bill.

The bill would let Philly levy a $2-a-pack tax on cigarettes.