Philadelphia approves $2-per-pack cigarette tax if state will allow

In an effort to raise funds for the cash strapped public school system, Philadelphia City Council unanimously passed a new cigarette tax thursday that raises prices by $2 a pack.

Before the vote, Shawmont Elementary school music teacher Hugh Williamson — one of the 3,800 district employees to recieve a budget-related pink-slip last week — addressed council with the backing of 20 of his students.

“Our hope is in the members of council, that you will find a way to adequately fund the schools regardless of the politics, otherwise these students and thousands of students will be silenced,” said Williamson.

When Council unanimously passed the measure, loud cheers came from Williamson and the rest of the gallery of onlookers who came to vocalize support for education funding.

But despite the cheers, the tax cannot be implemented without a blessing from lawmakers in Harrisburg, a prospect that at this point seems unlikely.

In total, the school district faces a $300 million shortfall and is hoping for $60 million from the city and $120 million from the state.  The district is also seeking about $100 million in concessions from teachers and other unionized workers.

Other so far stalled city efforts to raise more money include an increase of the Liquor-by-the-Drink Tax and an increase in the tax levied on businesses known as the Use and Occupancy Tax.

Council has until the end of June to pass those measures.

Also thursday, in an 11-5 vote Council finalized the property tax rate under the city’s Actual Value Initiative. Homeowners will pay a 1.34% tax but through the Homestead Exemption will not pay tax on the first $30,000 worth of property value.

Essentially, a home worth $100,000 will be taxed as if it were worth $70,000 and the homeowner would recieve a $938 dollar tax bill.

Councilmembers Bill Green, Kenyatta Johnson, Brian O’Neil, David Oh and Mark Squilla voted against the measure. They represent the city’s neighborhoods that — based partly on gentrification — have seen thier tax bills increase the most. A gentrification relief measure to help long-time residents of those neighborhoods was also passed Thursday. That bill has a “means testing” component to it which requires state approval.

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