Nutter asks biz to help get schools money

APRIL SAUL / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Mayor Nutter shakes and grins at the Chamber of Commerce luncheon, where he made a plea for education-funding lobbying.
APRIL SAUL / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Mayor Nutter shakes and grins at the Chamber of Commerce luncheon, where he made a plea for education-funding lobbying.
Posted: February 20, 2014

MAYOR NUTTER closed his annual address to the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce yesterday with an impassioned plea for business leaders to help lobby Harrisburg for more education money.

"I'm asking this Chamber to make education funding - full and fair funding - your No. 1 priority for 2014," Nutter said. "Every meeting, every lobbying day, every fundraiser, every survey - education funding must be at the top of the discussion."

With budget season approaching, Nutter wants Harrisburg to take up three measures that would aid the financially distressed school district: a revamping of the way the state distributes basic education funds, a law to enable the city to impose a tax on cigarettes and an amendment that makes permanent a 1 percent sales-tax increase in the city that was set to expire this year.

City Council last year declined to pass the sales-tax extension, saying that for it to continue, a greater share of the revenue must aid the pension system. Nutter at the time implored Council to pass the tax and to lobby Harrisburg for an amendment after the fact.

Council steadfastly refused, with none of its 17 members introducing the mayor's bill.

But Nutter's remarks yesterday seem to indicate that he will spend more time calling on Harrisburg to make the change before the city adopts it.

"We need the General Assembly to change the distribution of the 1 percent Philadelphia sales-tax extension to a 50/50 split," he said. "We then need City Council to do its part and pass the state-amended 1 percent sales-tax extension."

The cigarette tax, which Council passed, 16-0, last year, is dependent on Harrisburg approval. The GOP-controlled General Assembly didn't take up the measure last year and is not expected to do so this year unless it is wrapped into a larger deal.

The state-funding distribution change that Nutter is seeking would rewrite the basic-education "funding formula," giving greater weight to factors like district size, the number of students who have special needs and those who learned English as a second language.

Those factors would boost funding for districts like Philadelphia's, making it politically difficult because - absent new funding - other districts would end up with less.

Gov. Corbett, however, recently endorsed the idea of revamping the funding formula, giving new life to the issue.

Nutter noted that the city has raised taxes in recent years to aid the beleaguered district.

Asked after his speech whether the city would pursue other funding mechanisms if the state did not act, the mayor said it was too early in the budget season to say.

Next month he will deliver his annual budget address to Council, which has until July 1 to debate, amend and pass it.

On Twitter: @SeanWalshDN


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