City Council now has fallback plan if Harrisburg doesn’t come through for Philly schools

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Philadelphia City Council has added a fallback position to ensure sales tax money does go to the city’s school district.

The bill contains enabling legislation to send an estimated $120 million from a sales tax surcharge to the schools in perpetuity. Implementing a law passed in the state Legislature last year, it’s a fallback in the event that council can’t get a city cigarette tax through Harrisburg, Councilman Curtis Jones said Thursday.

“We’re optimistic that the Pennsylvania Legislature will give us some relief, but at the end of the day our children will be educated,” Jones said.

City Council hopes to have the cigarette tax in place so some of the sales tax revenue could help fill underfunded pension accounts.

The bill modification sends a message since the schools are requesting the sales tax money … and more, said Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez.

“I think it’s important that, no matter what, this council is committed to the $120 million, and I think it’s important that we put it on the table so that we can move to the discussion of the additional $75 million that is needed, that is expected, from the city of Philadelphia by the [School Reform Commission],” she said.

Last week, Mayor Michael Nutter said the council’s previous school-funding bill was risky because it didn’t include a fallback position. A spokesman for the mayor said Thursday this bill meets the requirements necessary to guarantee funding for the district.

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