Corbett budget czar's hint that SRC could tax

Charles Zogby spoke about the stalemate on Phila. school funding proposals.
Charles Zogby spoke about the stalemate on Phila. school funding proposals.
Posted: September 26, 2013

Charles Zogby said what?!

Zogby, Gov. Corbett's budget secretary, said he wasn't really expecting to make news when he told a reporter this week that there was talk in Harrisburg of giving taxing authority to the unelected members of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission.

He said the idea had arisen because of the stalemate between Mayor Nutter and City Council over extending the city's extra 1 percent sales tax for the benefit of the cash-strapped schools.

Council has refused to even introduce the mayor's proposal to extend the tax. If Council won't act, Zogby told a reporter from WHYY NewsWorks, maybe the taxing authority should go to the members of the SRC.

On Tuesday, when asked to elaborate, Zogby was vague about who exactly had suggested that alternative - saying only that there had been "various discussions in the Capitol."

Asked if he were trying to fire a warning shot across Council's bow, he said only, "It doesn't take a genius to see there is some reluctance" to extend the sales tax as proposed.

"At some point, Council has to act or it doesn't," Zogby said Tuesday. "If they don't, I think there are folks who are prepared to rethink the elements of the package. I don't think we're at that point now."

The School District is trying to fill a $304 million deficit, and the sales tax extension could pump $120 million into the district's coffers annually, starting in 2014.

Council President Darrell L. Clarke, however, wants to apply half of the sales tax extension toward the city's underfunded pension system and find other new revenue streams for the schools, including a cigarette tax.

All the sides have been talking - Clarke and Nutter each have made separate trips to Harrisburg recently. The mayor was there Monday.

By all accounts, lines of communication remain open between the parties and there is little pressure to resolve the situation before the end of the year.

If Zogby's comments were meant to spur the negotiations, there was little public reaction at City Hall or the SRC Tuesday.

Pedro Ramos, chairman of the five-member SRC, could not be reached for comment. Jane Roh, a spokeswoman for Clarke, said she would not respond to the comments and gave a general statement about the need to find a steady and fair stream of funding for the schools.

Mark McDonald, a spokesman for Nutter, was succinct in his reaction to Zogby:

"We don't know anything about this."

Inquirer staff writers Susan Snyder and Martha Woodall contributed to this article.



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