Offering an ultimatum, Corbett calls for pension reform before he’ll OK Philly cigarette tax

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett says Democratic state lawmakers should pony up votes to pass a public pension overhaul bill if they want Philadelphia to be allowed to hike a tax on cigarettes for schools funding.

The Republican-controlled House and Senate have been unable to pass the pension proposal, one of the governor’s top priorities.

“This is one where the Philadelphia delegation has the ability to help the school district of Philadelphia far more than any one delegation can,” Corbett said during an impromptu press conference he held in his office Sunday.

“There aren’t quite enough votes on the Republican side,” Corbett said, referring to the pension benefits overhaul bill. He urged the Democratic Philadelphia delegation “to deal and give” their votes to the proposal in return for the cigarette tax authorization. “It’s in their hands,” Corbett said.

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“I’m giving them the option to help their school district,” he added.

House and Senate Democratic leaders responded swiftly, saying the governor should be “ashamed” of linking the two issues.

“Pensions is dead. All right?” said Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia). “And the governor’s trying to regurgitate a program he could not get passed with the majority of his own House in the House and in the Senate, and so the pension concept is dead, over and done with.”

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said the city needs authorization to levy a $2-a-pack cigarette tax in order to bridge a $96 million deficit in its school district.  They tax would not produce all that money, but would be a large chunk of it.

“That, in its purest form, should not be connected to anything, other than making sure that kids get an education and that their schools open on time in September,” Nutter said. “To the extent that from a legislative or executive branch perspective, one is connected to the other, I can’t do a whole lot about that.”

Last June, Corbett made a similar push for Democratic votes on a transportation infrastructure funding package that was failing to garner enough support among Republicans. The bill didn’t pass until the fall, when changes were made to entice both GOP and Democratic lawmakers.

Corbett was asked, during his Sunday remarks, why he isn’t insisting the Republican majorities pass his desired pension overhaul alone.

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