Gov. Tom Corbett said he is “disappointed” the House canceled the Aug. 4 session when lawmakers were expected to vote on a bill authorizing Philadelphia to increase its cigarette tax to help fund the city’s schools.
In light of a request from House GOP leaders, Corbett said he will discuss advancing funding to the School District of Philadelphia with his Budget Office and said the Legislature should run “a clean” cigarette tax option bill.
“Let me make it clear: I believe that bill ought to run and it ought to run clean,” he told reporters Aug. 1 during a stop at the Walk-Le Holsteins farm in west central York County during his pension overhaul push. “Just the tax authorization.”
“We cannot allow these schools not to open,” Corbett said.
It’s unclear how the governor’s stance on the legislation will affect the future course of the Philadelphia cigarette tax option bill.
House Bill 1177 currently contains other provisions to allow specific municipalities to increase their hotel room tax to generate tourism dollars, or expand the City Redevelopment Improvement Zone program – issues that appear to be key for some legislators in exchange for their vote giving Philadelphia the tax option.
House Speaker Sam Smith, R-Punxsutawney, and Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, are working toward a consensus among members. York Reps. Stan Saylor, the House GOP Whip, and Seth Grove, said they want the hotel room tax and CRIZ program to include York County to help spur tourism and economic development.
A spokesman wouldn’t say whether Corbett would sign the legislation if it wasn’t “clean” and the hotel room tax and CRIZ language remained in the bill.
“Let’s see what the product is before we ask if the governor is going to sign it or not,” said Corbett spokesman Jay Pagni.
“We don’t have a bill that’s anywhere near passage at this point,” he added. “The governor has expressed his desires for a clean bill and there are obviously others who are expressing their differences.”
The lack of revenue from the cigarette tax option for Philadelphia will hamper the district’s ability to open schools on time and safely and while the funding advance is well-intentioned, it doesn’t address long-term needs, city officials said Thursday.
“…[T]his only advances money already included in the District’s budget and does nothing to address the substantial budget gap that the funds generated by the Philadelphia Cigarette Tax would help close,” said Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and City Council President Darrell Clarke in a statement.
The district’s budget gap is currently $81 million, officials said. The legislation would allow the city to increase the cigarette tax by $2 per pack, which they expect would generate about $83 million in the first year. Superintendent William Hite has said schools will not open in time or be adequately staffed to be considered safe.
Corbett is planning to have a sit-down meeting with Republican legislative leaders Monday, the first face-to-face meeting since he blue-line vetoed part of the Legislature’s funding in July.
The governor’s office later Friday issued a statement saying Corbett has instructed the Revenue Department “to take the necessary procedural steps to ensure that once the legislation is passed, revenue can begin to be collected immediately.”