Both the Senate and House returned to work Sept. 15 with legislation authorizing Philadelphia to enact a $2-a-pack cigarette tax to help fund the Phlly School District’s budget. When the Legislature recessed in July the issue was left unresolved.
While the legislature’s agenda is packed with bills including public employee pensions to public records any aren’t approved this fall effectively die and have to be reintroduced come January, when a new two-year session begins.
For the Philadelphia School District, the cigarette tax is critical. And time is of the essence.
The system faces an $81 million deficit, and Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. has said if the tax does not pass by early October, he will be forced to lay off more than 1,000 employees, including teachers, and swell some class sizes to 40.”
There is no Plan B,” Hite said last week. “We’re not going to put children in those types of environment.”
Steve Miskin, spokesman for Republican leaders in the House, said he expects the chamber to vote on the cigarette tax by Sept. 17. It will then go to the Senate, where officials say it ranks high on the list of priorities.
“Both chambers are interested in finishing it as soon as possible. Nobody wants that bill to linger,” said Erik Arneson, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware).
Gov. Corbett has said he will sign the cigarette tax bill if it reaches his desk.
Another issue which proponents hope will find legislature approval privatization the sale of wine and liquor. Also Gov. Corbett’s wish list is pension legislation.
All 203 members of the House and half of the 50 senators are up for reelection. There is little confidence that such hotly debated bills will even be taken up, let alone make it to Corbett’s desk, particularly given the abbreviated legislative schedule. The House is set to meet for 11 days before members break in late October for the election, and the Senate for 10 days.
Legislative sources say there is only the slimmest chance of resolutions on liquor or pensions bills – though House Republicans are determined to jump-start debate on both issues.
Gov. Corbett announced last week that he would call a special session pension reform if he is reelected, an announcement that pundits say show he is conceding o the issue
“The governor still believes pension reform remains one of the major issues he and the legislature must deal with, and is hopeful that progress can be made,” Corbett spokesman Jay Pagni told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The Inquirer believes the prospects appear better for debate on a medical marijuana bill – at least in the Senate , stating, “although Corbett has remained steadfast in his opposition to blanket legalization of marijuana for medicinal uses. He did say last spring that he would support a pilot study among child epilepsy patients seeking relief from seizures.”
The paper has reported that with two-thirds of the Senate supporting it, both Republican leaders and Democrats in that chamber say they are confident that a bill legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes under a doctor’s supervision will be approved by the upper chamber.
Sen. Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery) said he believes that the House too has the votes to pass the bill – and that there is urgency to getting the bill done quickly.
“Every day we don’t have access to medicine for people who desperately need it is a bad day,” said Leach, who said he hopes the issue makes it to Corbett’s desk in the next few weeks.
Not so fast, countered Miskin, noting that the federal Food and Drug Administration has not approved marijuana for medical use.
“The majority of our members believe the FDA has the resources to determine what is and what isn’t medicine,” said Miskin.