Pa. Senate action delays Philly cigarette tax passage

Posted: July 10, 2014

LIKE A SLOW, grueling tennis volley, the state Senate bounced the proposed Philadelphia cigarette tax intended to aid city schools back to the House yesterday, holding up millions of dollars for the distressed district indefinitely.

The state Senate voted 43-5 in favor of House Bill 1177, which contains the Philly-only cigarette tax, but not before making major changes to other parts of the bill, which will require it to go before the House again.

Senate lawmakers further complicated the cigarette tax by adding a sunset provision, which would require lawmakers to reassess it in five years.

The $2-per-pack levy would generate about $45 million for the district in the first year, and up to $83 million in subsequent years.

Schools Superintendent William Hite said in a statement that the changes put the district back in limbo and hamper its efforts for stable, recurring funding.

"Ending the tax in five years will exacerbate our structural deficit, complicate our long-term planning efforts, make it harder to access the capital markets and strip our schools of educational services and supports," Hite said. "We implore the House and Senate to come to agreement immediately on cigarette tax legislation that does not include a sunset provision."

The proposed measure would cut the district's estimated $93 million deficit in half. Without additional revenue, officials say the district will be forced to make steep cuts, which could include laying off hundreds of teachers, putting as many as 41 students in a class, and slashing school police and building maintenance. It could also delay the opening of schools.

State Sen. Vincent Hughes, of Philadelphia, expressed frustration with the back-and-forth politics.

"It is a bit of a ping-pong effect," Hughes said, "and the schoolchildren are being dealt with in that fashion - back and forth, back and forth."

On Twitter: @ChroniclesofSol

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