Gov. Tom Corbett said he disagreed with House Republican leaders’ decision to call off a planned vote to let Philadelphia raise a cigarette tax in order to help fund its schools.
“Hopefully we’ll find out what the reason was,” said Corbett at an unrelated event in York County Friday. Less than 24 hours before, House lawmakers had been notified they would not be called back to Harrisburg next week, as previously planned, to vote on the cigarette tax authorization.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter had lobbied tirelessly for the bill, saying it was necessary to close a $93 million budget gap and stave off layoffs, larger class sizes, and a late start to the school year.
“We need to make sure that the School District of Philadelphia understands that this opportunity that’s been discussed for — what, a year and a half? — comes to fruition,” Corbett said.
He added that “it’s not clear” whether House leaders scuttled next week’s session days because of disagreement in their ranks, or because lawmakers didn’t want to interrupt their summer vacations.
The cigarette tax legislation has bounced back and forth between the House and Senate since June. On each bounce, the bill was loaded up with different initiatives, making final agreement elusive.
Corbett said he plans to speak with House GOP leaders about their next move.
“But let me make it clear: I believe that bill ought to run and it ought to run clean,” Corbett said. “No attachments … just the tax authorization.”
Lawmakers don’t plan to return to the Capitol before September for any votes. In the meantime, they’re asking Corbett to advance Philadelphia schools the money they need.
Corbett said he’s considering that option.
“We cannot allow these schools not to open,” he said. Last year, the administration advanced $400 million to the school district.
But Philadelphia’s mayor and superintendent say a similar move this year would be insufficient. They maintain that they need the tax authorization by mid-August to plan for the school year.