Philadelphia City Council has the opportunity to pass a budget this week. It’s not what either the mayor or School Reform Commission wants.
Council’s budget would not overhaul property taxes, including a citywide reassessment, until next year. So instead of generating an additional $94 million for Philadelphia schools, the district would receive only up to $40 million more.
School Reform Commission head Pedro Ramos says that won’t work.
“It’s not a menu; it is four legs to a stool that are necessary to stabilize the district,” he said.
Ramos says the $94 million is the first leg. Cutting the budget is leg two. Reducing personnel costs, through contracting out custodial work or busing for instance, is leg three. And that still leaves the district borrowing $200 million for the fourth leg.
Councilman Curtis Jones says it was difficult just finding enough votes for the $40 million, which includes a $20 million property tax hike and another $20 million from the use and occupancy tax.
“Finding nine votes for (use and occupancy), finding nine votes for a modest property tax increase that comes to just under 2 percent, is still a heavy lift in a recession,” Jones said. “We are doing the best with what we have and our membership and their district needs.”
Mayor Michael Nutter flew back from meetings in Florida to try to convince Council members into voting his way, but didn’t prevail. Political analyst Larry Ceisler says the conflict highlights the strained relationship between Nutter and City Council.
“What they haven’t seen from him is the forcefulness of being the mayor to get what he wants and to do what he needs to do to get there,” Ceisler says. “He’s certainly had the political capital to achieve many of his goals. But, for whatever the reason, it breaks down probably in personal communications somewhere.”
It’s also a test for Darrell Clarke. This is his first budget since becoming Council president.