House leadership delays vote on cigarette tax

Posted: August 01, 2014

SCHOOLS Superintendent William Hite yesterday reiterated what he considers the inevitable consequences if state legislators fail to pass the cigarette-tax bill by Aug. 15: layoffs and a delayed school opening.

That dire scenario apparently didn't move House members enough to head back to Harrisburg on Monday to consider House Bill 1177. The Republican leadership, instead, announced yesterday that the House would deal with the proposed legislation when both chambers return Sept. 15, seven days after the scheduled start of school.

House Speaker Sam Smith and Majority Leader Mike Turzai have asked Gov. Corbett to advance the district the "funds necessary to ensure schools open on time in the city." They did not specify an amount.

"We are working with the Senate and governor to ensure Philadelphia has the resources it needs to keep the schools open," Smith said.

Corbett spokesman Jay Pagni said the governor and House leaders are expected to meet early next week to discuss the bill. "An advance does not address the long-term fiscal issues the cigarette tax would," he said.

City and school officials expressed disappointment and outrage.

"We are devastated with the news that HB 1177 has once again been delayed," Hite told reporters after the announcement. He said he didn't want to say what the district would do next, "because there are a whole lot of things that can happen between now and then."

"I'm annoyed, disappointed and frustrated . . . we are at a point two weeks [out] before we have to make some operational decisions to educate children," Hite said.

"We're trying to educate children."

Hite said that if by "an advance," the leaders mean money already in the budget for the schools, then that won't resolve the district's budget problem.

"We still need $81 million, otherwise we're spending money that we don't have," he said. The superintendent, clearly frustrated, implored legislators to return and consider the bill before Aug. 15.

Mayor Nutter called the House decision "an absolute outrage and a disgrace."

"As a result of the House Republican leadership deciding not to bring the House back - after already announcing to the public that they would be coming back on Aug. 4, 5 and 6 . . . Philadelphia schools will not be able to open on time and safely because they chose not to come and do their jobs," the mayor said.

Charter schools are expected to open as planned, district spokesman Fernando Gallard said.

Transportation for parochial schools, however, is a question mark as the district weighs its options to fill the gap, he said.

- Staff writer Jenny DeHuff

contributed to this report.

On Twitter: @ReginaMedina


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