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Advocates call for City Council to change thinking on sales-tax plan for schools

By thenotebook on Mar 13, 2014 06:03 PM
Photo: Kevin McCorry/WHYY

Donna Cooper, executive director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth, speaks during a hearing at City Hall in Philadelphia on Thursday, March 13, 2014.

by Kevin McCorry for NewsWorks

A coalition of eight education advocacy groups swarmed City Hall on Thursday, urging City Council to follow a sales-tax extension plan already authorized by the state, which would send $120 million in increased sales-tax revenue to schools.

Under the existing plan, anything more than $120 million raised from extending a one-cent city sales tax would go to the pension system. Current city projections show sales-tax revenue could be as much as $140 million this year.

Mayor Nutter and Council President Darrell Clarke have been hoping to split the sales-tax proceeds evenly between schools and pensions and make up the difference by pushing the state to pass a tax that would raise the cost of cigarettes in Philadelphia by $2 per pack.

Donna Cooper, executive director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth, said it puts schools at risk to think that Harrisburg is going to both pass a cigarette tax and redo the sales-tax plan that it already authorized.

Go with what's already approved, she urged, and then push for the cigarette tax as a way to fund pensions.

"The real question is why that isn't on the table? Why [are we] going through the convoluted process of cutting the sales tax in half and hoping to get the cigarette tax?" she said.

Cigarette tax appears unlikely

The reason, she said, is that Council doesn't have faith that the cigarette tax will pass the GOP-controlled state legislature.

Councilman James Kenney wholeheartedly agreed.

"You have to have some reality. We're not getting the cigarette tax," he said. "Grover Norquist has effectively shut down any type of effort that has the word 'tax' on it to Tea Party Republicans."

But, unlike Cooper, Kenney fully supports the split. Using some sales-tax revenue to fund pensions, he said, will create more options to fund the schools through the city's general fund.

"We need to defease the pension obligations, and, if we can do that in any consistent way, there will be more general fund money unfrozen, able to use for schools," he said. "We have so many other complicated issues to deal with, and when you have people advocating for just one thing ... they have to look at what we have to look at, which is the whole picture."

(Education advocates argue that shoring up school funding will attract middle-class families to the city, which will drive up the city's tax base – ultimately making the pension issue easier to deal with.)

Read the rest of this story at NewsWorks

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Comments (25)

Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on March 13, 2014 7:01 pm

The Philadelphia School District is worse for the Public School than Harrisburg. Corbett and the Republican legislature authorized the 1% sales tax for the schools and they refused to implement.

They need the money to shore up city pension including extravagant DROP payments to Council members.

They apparently care less for Philadelphia school children the that bogey man Tom Corbett.

But these guys know they will never have a real opponent in the general election. So oh well School Kids!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 13, 2014 11:41 pm

The cost of maintaining PGW as city councils dumping ground for idiot relatives of ward heelers will cost taxpayers $500 million.

The money that sale would contribute to the pension fund has to come from somewhere? You think every Philly worker is ready to pay an extra $1000 (on top of too high rates) for the privilege of letting city council mismanage a gas company?

So there will be some slight of hand and the money that was supposed to fund schools will go instead towards keeping PGW fat, stupid and owned by the city. Darrell Clarke representing Philly machine- sneaking through a $500 million tax increase on future voters. Just like he did with DROP. He is assuming (probably correctly) that everyone voting in the mayor's race is too stupid to figure out that he stole $1000 from each of them so he could buy 1300 PGW employee votes (and healthy campaign contributions). That's almost $400,000 each in other peoples money.

But somehow I think it will be a cold day in hell before I hear a professional "education advocate" point the obvious here out. There is $500 million in play here, yet nary a squeak that it should be used for education instead of keeping PGW under the machine's thumb. Why? Easier to complain about Harrisburg and push for ever higher tax burden on Philadelphia's already overtaxed populace than push for real change.

Submitted by tom-104 on March 14, 2014 8:28 am

Do you actually believe that the private sector would be free of corruption and cronyism? The politicians do it illegally. The corporations would be given carte blanche to loot the gas works and the rate payers would pay.

http://tinyurl.com/kcocf9w

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 14, 2014 9:45 am

Tom, This isn't some theoretical exercise. Step out of your ideological bubble for a second.

I KNOW we are all paying more in gas because the city mismanages it. Look at the suburbs. Look at other cities none of which have governement run gas companies. Almost all of them have LOWER RATES! PGW's rates are terrible! They have been screwing the ratepayers since the beginning. Quite frankly, ratepayers would be better off if the city gave it away for nothing. The $500 million is gravy.

Citing some total hack at the City Paper who parrots interest groups talking points, someone who is too dumb to ask easy questions and too lazy to do a google search, well that doesn't change the facts. '

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 16, 2014 1:39 pm

Just to clarify, moving from Arlington VA to Philadelphia, the distribution cost for gas is more than 100% higher in Philadelphia.

Paying twice as much, despite the fact that a gas distribution network in a high density city is more cost efficient than a lower density suburb.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 15, 2014 3:48 pm

Tom, so where do we get the $420 million the city will forgo by keeping PGW?

Whose taxes go up? Or do we just continue to squeeze school spending.

I guess you will say Comcast and tax abatement in which case I sincerely hope you aren't a math teacher.

Submitted by tom-104 on March 15, 2014 5:25 pm

This would be a one time infusion of cash and then the customers would be paying a private company for ever rising rates.

As to where to get the money from http://tinyurl.com/pvjew7s

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 16, 2014 1:06 pm

What a crock of BS. We already have ever rising rates from PGW. A private company would increase its profits by running it more effectively, not a difficult thing to do given its track-record. Rate increases can be stopped by the PUC anyway.

Keeping the gas company under the machines thumb has nothing to do with protecting ratepayers. It has everything to do with protecting the interest groups that feed off of ratepayers.

Obviously you know that. This is just more proof that the "education advocates" put children towards the bottom of their priority list, behind the needs of 48 year old PGW retirees and state store workers. The only people lower on the education advocates' priority list than children are private sector taxpayers.

Submitted by tom-104 on March 16, 2014 7:36 pm

I'm not saying there is not corruption and cronyism at PGW that must be dealt with. But this idea that privatizing public utilities is any different is a Milton Freedman myth http://tinyurl.com/5sx75k. I assume you are against government regulation of private industry, so it would be even worse. Every where it has been tried it has led to fabulous wealth for a tiny elite and social misery and poverty for millions.

Anyway, why are you here since you obviously hate dedicated and hard working educators?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 17, 2014 12:41 pm

Actually my sister is a teacher. I have two young kids, thinking about the options. And I pay high taxes to Philadelphia along with excessively high rates to PGW that are basically an indirect tax on top. I don't mind paying taxes for important things like schools. I do mind paying taxes to feed a corrupt, incompetent self-dealing machine.

Education is a core function of government. Running gas companies, liquor stores is not. In Philly, "education advocates" are part of the problem of corrupt machine government here. Their silence on PGW is proof. The advocates prioritize the needs of the machine's interest groups ahead of parents and children. The only group that is lower on their priority list is private sector taxpayers.

This is a fact. If your goal is to get more money for schools, you are negligent to sit by and let stooges in council kill a windfall for the cities' taxpayers.

There are hundreds of millions sitting on the table from something as obviously beneficial as selling PGW, and all the education advocates go mute. So as a taxpayer next time I hear an "education advocate" tell me I need to pay more for the children, I go deaf.

Submitted by really? (not verified) on March 13, 2014 9:41 pm

Please, Ms. Ward, tell us what "part" the teachers should play. Tell us why the people who work in these schools every day and do not get paid enough now should pay for the neglect of the Mayor and Council and the Governor. Tell us what "part" the teachers should play in cleaning up the mess created by the SRC.

Tell us what part Comcast and the Chamber of Commerce are going to play in saving the schools. Maybe they could give up just a teensy part of their abatements for the children.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 14, 2014 4:34 pm

Fair enough.

Comcast- 5000 construction jobs and 1500 permanent high-paying jobs, many of whom will live in the suburbs, but pay the city wage tax and 2% more on purchases. The company just had use and occupancy tax increased 25% on their 60 story building to fund more money from school...

Chamber of Commerce- representing businesses that already pay the highest city taxes in the US, most of whom could move five miles and contribute nothing rather than 6.5% of their profits and a share of their revenue on top. All of whom have received multiple tax increases over the last years to fund schools.

There is only one group that hasn't helped solve chronic problems in recent years... Even the much maligned state has doubled funding since taking over.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 14, 2014 5:39 pm

This has been a paid commercial announcement from ALEC.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 15, 2014 3:29 pm

Facts are a tough thing to rebut.

Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on March 13, 2014 11:50 pm

So let me understand the rationale here--Because the Tea Party types and the corporate elite want to starve Public Ed., the PEOPLE should just accept it as reality???? Is anybody out there dumb enough to accept this "reality?" I could put it in much more vulgar terms but I shan't.

Submitted by Go-Eagles (not verified) on March 14, 2014 2:34 pm

Joe - The dumb enough people out there are the low information voters that keeps the same ol' same ol' in office for 60+ years.

Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on March 14, 2014 5:14 pm

I think you might be on to something but The Repubs. are even more scary than the Dems. Now get back to work on one of your 30 jobs.

Submitted by Go-Eagles (not verified) on March 14, 2014 10:47 pm

I keep on sayin' it Joe. You guys are voting for the wrong team. You know the definition of insanity. BTW, I have 1 job with 30 tasks each day. We keep you alive to serve this ship, row well and live.

Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on March 14, 2014 10:48 pm

Yea, you and Willie "Hit it on the hill, Will" Stargell. And, of course, Elroy Face !!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 14, 2014 10:44 pm

We need a new party which represents the 99%. We have to get off of this treadmill going no where.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 14, 2014 12:34 am

Kenney is such a pandering tool. He tells everyone what they want to hear.

Blaming the tea party for a truly idiotic idea that Philadelphia's politicians came up with. Nutter who never cared about raising revenue in the first place, but wanted to brownose with Bloomberg. Of course Kenney's moronic persona passes muster with the softheaded Philly voters.

Anyone with half a brain realizes that allowing Philadelphia to fund its schools a punitively high, easily avoidable, impossible to enforce tax on a product that has declining volume every year just sets up another fiscal crisis in a few years.

Maybe the rest of the state is just sick of dealing with the consequences of the dumb idea machine that is Philadelphia government.

Submitted by inthetrenches (not verified) on March 14, 2014 4:56 am

The comment by the parent should raise alarms for City Council. Without adequately funded PUBLIC schools, people who pay taxes will flee. Philadelphia already has a concentration of poverty - yes, people pay sales tax but the city survives on wage tax and people who PAY property tax. (We are still waiting to see if property tax is going to be equitably collected. Why isn't City Council discussing getting rid of the 10 year tax abatement? If someone can afford a $500,000+ house, they can pay property taxes.)

Maybe teachers need to follow the lead of the Board of Revision of Taxes. They refused to work a couple hours a day for $150. So now, they will all get $70,000/year for part time work. (This is a patronage position - this is on top of generous pensions.) Hey, why should teachers work 12 hours days plus weekends while making chump change? (Any teacher who doesn't put in more than then 7 hour 4 minute day isn't ready to teach - just following up on paper work takes more time no less lesson planning, grading, etc.)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 14, 2014 11:23 am

That sums up the problem with Philadelphia government- everyone sees abuse, corruption and waste. Rather than try to fix it, they say, "I want to be abusive and corrupt too." That is how you get the sort of overpriced, deeply incompetent government Philadelphia has.

Submitted by inthetrenches (not verified) on March 14, 2014 12:10 pm

I was obviously being sarcastic. If teachers operated like City Hall, schools would be in much worse shape. Schools are operating because many teachers go far above and beyond ... Why can't high paid Board of Revenue staff?

Submitted by nicoleB (not verified) on March 14, 2014 7:40 am

The teachers need to follow the rules and regulations But, those taxes are high. You need to know the entire amount that will be getting interest with every financial instrument as the first step to calculating interest. You have to get more specific than that though. You also need to know in case you are earning simple interest or compound interest.

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