A pupil-parachute plan?

Clarke: Alters legislation to extend sales tax if needed.
Clarke: Alters legislation to extend sales tax if needed.
Posted: May 23, 2014

FOLLOWING intense criticism, City Council President Darrell Clarke agreed yesterday to add a "safety-net" provision to legislation that would extend a city sales-tax increase so that, even if state lawmakers don't act on the issue this spring, the tax would be extended and the School District of Philadelphia would get $120 million next year.

"What we can't do is allow ourselves to be in a position that if there are some changes in the existing state provision or some changes in the proposal that we put forth, that we're not in a position to take advantage of the extension of the sales tax," Clarke told reporters after Council's regular session yesterday.

Last week, Clarke proposed giving $120 million of the revenue to the school district in its first year by extending the city sales tax from 7 percent to 8 percent and then gradually phasing in a 50/50 split of the revenues to fill coffers for the district and the city's beleaguered pension fund.

"The process in the General Assembly is probably going to be concluded at a later date than the Council process, but what we want to do is ensure that whatever ultimately comes out of Harrisburg as it relates to the sales tax, that we're in a position to enact here locally," Clarke said.

"We just won't have the opportunity to go back, after they enact their legislation and change our legislation, so we wanted to have a safety net in the event there are some changes in the proposal that's put forth by us or by what's put forth in the General Assembly."

Many powerful voices - including those of Mayor Nutter, School Reform Commission Chairman Bill Green IV and Superintendent William Hite - attacked Clarke's original plan, introduced last week, for relying too heavily on action from Harrisburg without providing a backup plan.

"The legislation introduced last week could not guarantee 100 percent that the $120 million would be available to the schools as of the new fiscal year," Nutter spokesman Mark McDonald said.

"This amended bill appears to do that, and that's a good thing."

Councilman David Oh claimed that for the second year in a row he's found funds in the mayor's proposed operating budget that could be better spent elsewhere. Oh's amendment, introduced yesterday, identifies $74 million in the mayor's budget as "appropriations that are in excess of need" and that could go to the school district.

"I'm not saying [those funds] are not necessary. I'm not saying they don't have a purpose, I'm just saying they appear to be appropriations that are more than what is being spent. This amendment would free up that money for an option for this Council body," he said.


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