Some smokers fume at idea of $2-a-pack tax, but not all

Posted: May 17, 2013

IF MAYOR NUTTER gets his way, smokers and drinkers could be forking up some big dough in city taxes - but not all of them are fuming about it.

Sonny Deniro, a server at Jon's Bar & Grille at 3rd and South, said he opposed the new sin taxes - until he found out the money would go to the schools.

City schools "need help," said Deniro, 27, a parent of a child who hasn't entered school yet. "They should raise it up even more."

Nutter proposed two new taxes yesterday - a $2-per-pack cigarette tax and a 5 percentage-point increase in the city's "liquor-by-the-drink" tax - to raise $67 million for the financially beleaguered Philadelphia School District.

He's also promising $28 million in improved collections of existing taxes to aid the district, which has requested $60 million from the city, $120 million from the state and $123 in labor savings to fund its massive budget shortfall.

Both of the tax hikes would require authorization from Harrisburg and approval from Council.

"Now it's time for our political leaders to step up or step aside," Nutter said at a news conference.

The mayor invited all 17 Council members to the announcement, but none shared the podium with him. Afterward, Council members were wishy-washy as to whether they support his plan, with some saying they won't act until it's clear the state authorization will pass.

Council President Darrell Clarke was an early backer of the alcohol proposal, which would increase the city tax on bar tabs from 10 percent to 15 percent and bring in an estimated $22 million more per year.

Councilman Jim Kenney said he was skeptical Harrisburg will let the tax increases go through.

"I don't know how both the cigarette industry and the liquor industry are just going to lay down in the next month and allow it to be passed," he said.

The city has raised property taxes to aid the school district for the last two years.

Dale McClendon, of Society Hill, a smoker and a parent of a third-grader at General George McCall Elementary School, said he was skeptical that the city and school district have been good stewards of taxpayer money. But in the end, he said, the schools can't suffer further cuts.

"It would be helpful if they didn't put it on the backs of all the taxpayers," said McLendon, 48. "But at the same time, as a parent, I don't want to see anything detrimental further happen to the system."

The idea is not so popular among many other smokers who see it as a money-grab by the city.

"It's just like taxing something that someone has the right to. It's not illegal," said Tron Tan, 23, of North Philadelphia.

Mouner Mohamed, a Center City valet, said he would consider cutting back if the tax is approved.

"The price is too high. It's already $6 a pack," he said. "A lot of people will quit."

- Staff writers Jan Ransom

and Solomon Leach

contributed to this report.


On Twitter: @SeanWalshDN

Blog:ph.ly/PhillyClout

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