Mayor asks Philly property owners to dig deeper to help schools

 Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter delivers his last budget address to City Council. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter delivers his last budget address to City Council. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphia homeowners are being asked to pay 9 percent more in property taxes so the city can send an additional $100 million to the schools.  

Members of city council didn’t give Mayor Michael Nutter’s budget proposal a warm welcome.

The Philadelphia School District says it needs an extra $300 million ($100 million from the city and $200 from the state) to help fix its ongoing budget issues.  Mayor Michael Nutter says for the city, a property tax hike is the only way to afford that.

“Let me say very clearly….I don’t want to raise your taxes, but I do want to educate our children,” Nutter said.  “I don’t want the next generation of Philadelphians living under the burdens of poverty and violence without the opportunity to succeed.”

As he finishes his second term, this was the mayor’s final budget address.  But most on City Council are seeking re-election this year.  Councilman Curtis Jones says that makes it even tougher to sell a major tax hike.

“I think we have a lot of work to do before I can say that.  Talking to members and finding out what the alternative strategies are this is a heavy lift,” Jones said.

Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell is known as an education booster.  Still, she’s not endorsing Nutter’s plan.

“I believe that council is very encouraged by the governor’s stance and we’re willing to see what he’s going to do in his prioritization of education,” Black well said. “I do not believe there is any sentiment for increasing taxation — none.”

Council President Darrell Clarke says the school district asking for more money is an annual event.

“It’s consistent with what’s happened over the last several years. When we enacted the sales tax and was subsequently authorized to enact the cigarette tax, I said they will be back again. And here they are,” Clarke said.

But School Superintendent William Hite says if this budget were enacted, the district would not have a budget shortfall next year.

“This would get us to a structural balance place and that’s something exciting in and of itself,” Hite said.

Clarke says the city shouldn’t always go back to the taxpayer to close budget gaps — whether it’s for the city or the schools.  He says there are alternative revenue sources that should be tapped, such selling vacant property or expanding advertising at city facilities.  He promises to explore both during budget hearings.

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