Philly Council tackles school funding, pot possession; PGW sale vote on hold for next session

 Former Mayor John Street protests the sale of PGW at City Hall in Philadelphia (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

Former Mayor John Street protests the sale of PGW at City Hall in Philadelphia (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

Philadelphia City Council spent its final session before summer recess cleaning up some unfinished business … and putting off other items.  It took action on everything from school funding to marijuana.

One thing Council members left on the back burner was the potential $1.8 billion sale of the Philadelphia Gas Works to UIL Holdings Corporation.

Former Mayor John Street joined dozens of protesters at City Hall who oppose the sale, saying it will mean higher bills for consumers.

When he was mayor, Street brought in the firm Lehman Brothers to analyze whether selling the gas utility was a good idea.  But he’s against it now.”What they want to do is not simply privatize PGW,” Street said. “What they want to do is take it from a private nonprofit and turn it over to a for-profit whose main goal is to make money, and that’s different.”Street said he believes the Connecticut-based UIL will cut corners or raise gas prices in order to make profits.  Mayor Michael Nutter’s spokesman, who said there’s no evidence to support Street’s “outlandish comments,” added that UIL pays its employees more than PGW does.And Councilwoman Marian Tasco, a member of the commission that oversees PGW, said Council is not rushing its due diligence.The proceeds from the sale of the utility would go toward replenishing the city’s underfunded pension program.On to school funding, pot possession

Inside City Hall Thursday, City Council members started the process to provide more money to help the schools.  In addition to $27 million already promised to help the district pay this year’s bills, Council plans  to approve borrowing $30 million more in the fall.

School Reform Commission chairman Bill Green said that will help bridge the gap until a city cigarette tax can kick in, which he expects Pennsylvania lawmakers will approve. But even the extra funds won’t be enough to avoid some cuts for the new school year, Green said.”This is a stopgap measure that helps with revenue that we’re not going to get from the cigarette tax next year, assuming it passes,” he said. “The cigarette tax, when fully implemented, will be approximately $87 million. We’re only going to get $45 million or so next year — this helps fill that hole.”Council also passed Jim Kenney’s bill to give police officers the option of issuing a $25 fine to anyone caught with small amounts of marijuana.  It’s not decriminalization, said Councilwoman Cindy Bass, rather spending government resources more wisely.”There need to be more resources, more dollars, that effect making sure people have an opportunity to clean themselves up rather than prosecuting small amounts for recreational use,” she said.Kenney got 13 votes for the bill, just one more than is necessary for an override in case Mayor Michael Nutter vetoes the bill.

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