City Council Won’t Debate Property Tax Hike Until After the Election

Isn't that convenient?

Philadelphia City Council  | Photo Credit: City Council's Flickr page

Philadelphia City Council | Photo Credit: City Council’s Flickr page

The Philadelphia City Council must decide in the next few months whether to support Mayor Michael Nutter’s plan to raise property taxes by more than 9 percent to fund the cash-strapped schools.

That’s not an easy choice for legislators to make during an election year.

Lucky for them, that debate won’t take place until after the May 19th primary, in which 15 of 16 Council members are up for reelection. That’s because Council has scheduled its hearing on education funding for May 26th.

In recent years, such hearings have been held earlier (though Council has not actually voted on proposed tax hikes until June).

Councilman Bill Greenlee says the budget process is getting off to a late start because lawmakers want to wait to see how Gov. Tom Wolf‘s proposed budget is faring in Harrisburg.

“The state budget will determine a lot of what the city budget looks like,” says Greenlee. “Waiting a little bit longer makes some sense, particularly this year, because Gov. Wolf’s budget is obviously a much different budget than we’ve seen before.”

It’s true Wolf’s budget could have a huge impact on Philadelphia: He is proposing property-tax relief that, according to Nutter, would result in the average city homeowner’s tax bill falling in 2017, as compared to 2015, even if Philly raises property taxes. (More info on how that would work here.)

At the same time, though, the state doesn’t need to pass its budget by law until June 30th, and the General Assembly could very well blow that deadline.

A spokeswoman for Council President Darrell Clarke told the Inquirer how the date for the education funding hearing was selected (and a spokesman for Nutter cast doubt on her explanation):

Clarke’s spokeswoman, Jane Roh, said the date was picked with the input of School District officials. She said the budget hearings are starting later because the Mayor’s Office asked for more time to provide Council with its “detail books,” which give department-by-department specifics.

Mark McDonald, Nutter’s spokesman, said that was not the case. He said the books would be given to Council at the normal time, and added that the first hearings are on the city’s five-year plan and capital budget — broad topics the books don’t pertain to.

Roh added that she expects Council members to discuss education funding long before the official hearing on May 26th.

“Since 2012, taxes and School District of Philadelphia funding have dominated the entire budget hearing process,” she added. “City Council will hold two neighborhood budget hearings before the primary election, in which the agenda is set entirely by members of the public. If past is prologue, Council members will once again be called to account on their records and positions on taxes and school funding.”

Regardless of the reason for the later hearing, this is likely a win for incumbent Council members, and a loss for those candidates challenging them.

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