Local/State

Philadelphia City Council considers tax hike to fund schools

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Philadelphia City Council has been working to find emergency funding for the school district. They've been debating two proposals that add up to one thing: higher taxes.

Council got an earful from competing factions Thursday as it considers two new taxes.

One is a 9 percent bump in real estate taxes. The other is a 3 percent hike of the business use and occupancy tax.

Together they would raise $40 million for the schools.

Unionized school workers pleaded with Council Thursday to raise taxes to save their jobs.

"We're imploring you to find resources. Find a way to give our children the best education they possibly can, and importantly, find a way to save 2700 hard-working men and women's jobs," said George Richezza.

On the other hand, business leaders argued strongly against raising taxes on shopkeepers and other businesses that rent space.

"If all of a sudden within a couple of weeks they get a huge bill in the mail with a $400-$500 increase in the use-and-occupancy tax, they're going to seek space somewhere else," said Rob Wonderling of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.

The schools are facing a $218 million deficit. Mayor Nutter had been hoping that reassessing city real estate would raise another $94 million for the schools.

But Council has voted to delay that plan by a year. Instead it proposes raising $40 million through the higher real estate and business taxes.

Mayor Nutter says raising those taxes may be distasteful, but the city has an obligation to save the schools.

"We don't have the luxury sometimes of only doing the things that we want to do. I find myself often doing things that we have to do, because of who gets impacted," said Nutter.

Some in Council say the city is letting Harrisburg off the hook.

"I can't continue to wring the last drop of blood out of every one of our citizens when Harrisburg is not doing what they're supposed to do," said Democratic Councilman James Kenney.

But Harrisburg is showing no signs of the restoring the $300 million it cut from the city schools anytime soon. So, like it or not, city taxpayers will again take up some of the slack while the district borrows to cover the rest.

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Tags:
philadelphia, education, center city, city hall, philadelphia city council, philadelphia school district, local/state, david henry
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