Philly Council introduces framework of school funding strategy

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Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter’s plan to raise $105 million in recurring revenue for the city schools by hiking property taxes nearly 10 percent has hit a brick wall in City Council.

Council members have spent much of the spring looking for an alternative to fill the school district’s budget hole.  

A compromise is evolving, though it is far from final. 

City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, a champion of education, said she can’t stomach the thought of a $105 million property tax hike.

 

“I’ve been against real estate taxes,” she said Thursday. “I’m always against real estate taxes, I hate a real estate tax.”

Among other things, the compromise City Council is considering calls for raising about $50 million  from real estate taxes and increasing the city’s use and occupancy tax about $10 million.  

That’s rankling business groups. Joe Grace of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce said, while the group supports the schools, the tax was increased three just years ago.

“It does send a signal to business that can move that here we go raising that same tax again,” he said.

Another option is increasing the parking tax, said Councilman Bill Greenlee, who introduced the proposal and quoted a legendary city councilwoman while doing so.

“Ideally, we would like to not raise taxes and have the school district have more money, but in the inimitable words of Gussie Clark, ‘We are politicians, not magicians,’ so we have to find what is a middle ground here,” Greenlee said.

Council Majority Leader Curtis Jones said that even using all these options to raise funds, the package still doesn’t add up to the $105 million the school district requested.

“Members have come to consensus that we should at least do the $80 million to $84 million worth of deficit,” Jones said.

A Nutter spokesman said the mayor hopes that as City Council continues its deliberations and reviews all the options, it will eventually come to conclusion that his proposed real estate tax hike is the only way to go.

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