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Will Philly delegation 'play ball' on budget to win dollars for city schools?

By Kevin McCorry for NewsWorks on Jun 26, 2014 06:13 PM
Photo: WikiMedia Commons

Facing a $66 million budget shortfall that threatens to turn schools into "empty shells," the Philadelphia School District has turned its efforts for additional funding to Harrisburg.

But lawmakers there are grappling with a $1.4 billion hole in their own budget, and the District's budget woes are but one of many legislative pieces maneuvering on the chessboard.

With mere days remaining before the state's June 30 budget deadline, the halls of the state Capitol are abuzz with politicking and strategy.

Education advocates lobbying on behalf of Philadelphia schoolchildren have a wish list:

Allow Philadelphia to put a $2-per-pack tax on cigarettes sold within the city, keep the additional education funding that Gov. Corbett proposed in February (the Philadelphia School District has been counting on $39 million of this) and, while you're at it, levy a broader tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling and save money by accepting the federal Medicaid expansion.

"I always try to educate people to the reality of it, and the reality of it can be very frustrating," said State Rep. Pam DeLissio, (D-Philadelphia).

DeLissio says she's had a few tense conversations with her Northwest Philadelphia constituents whose overarching concern is education funding.

"Unless people understand the reality of sort of how it works up here," she said, it's difficult to "get what you want done."

The proposed Philadelphia cigarette tax is a prime example of Harrisburg politics at work.

That tax, which Philadelphia City Council passed last spring, is expected to generate at least $40 million in its first year and double that for years to come, all going to Philly education.

For the last year, it's been a non-starter in Harrisburg.

But it's recently found increased momentum after the consistent lobbying efforts of Superintendent William Hite, School Reform Commission Chairman Bill Green, Mayor Nutter, City Council President Darrell Clarke, the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, and an assortment of advocacy groups.

According to many politicians interviewed for this story, passing the measure will require what Clarke has called "horse trading and bartering."

"Republicans have basically said, 'There are things that you're interested in, and there's things that we're interested in,'" said State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams (D-Philadelphia). "And so we have to compromise."

Republicans would like to reform the state's pension system, which is underfunded by $50 billion.

In the plan that Corbett's administration favors, new state employees would move to a hybrid retirement system that would offer a traditional pension with a defined-contribution, 401k-style plan on top. This would save as much as $11 billion over the next 30 years. Existing state employees would not be affected because of a grandfather clause.

Leading Republicans in the House have also been pushing to privatize the state's liquor store system.

"If Philadelphia Democrats aren't going to be there for what needs to be done, then nobody's going to be there for them," said state Budget Secretary Charles Zogby. "And they can go home and tell their constituents why they couldn't get money for the School District."

Both deals are toxic for labor unions, which, along with education advocates, make up a key bastion of the Democratic Party's base.

So does this pose a Faustian dilemma to Philly Democrats?

Read the rest of this story at NewsWorks

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Comments (7)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 26, 2014 7:37 pm
Everyone hates the state stores. I don't get why that is a Democratic principle.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 27, 2014 10:29 am
Because the state stores have unionized cahiers that the Democratic politicians pander to.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 26, 2014 7:34 pm
On the street, when someone demands you do what they want or else...it's called blackmail!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 27, 2014 11:56 am
Politics? This sounds like extortion to me. Yes there needs to be give and take but not on the lives of children. I agree that Democrats need to compromise on some of their agendas as do Republicans when Democrats are in control, but the negotiation should be using other leverage. Republicans can always say we compromised our wants for the lives of kids and put it out publicly that Democrats are not reciprocating, if they do not after Republicans open up the money for schools. This would be a far better argument than saying "go home and tell your constituents you could not get money for schools". This is like saying go home and tell you kids you could not get food to eat. Funny that many of these people would call themselves Christians? It is incredible that people who would talk about people using human shields in war as cowardess would use kids in the same way.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 27, 2014 11:14 am
It is a sad fact that most Philly pols prioritize state store workers ahead of their students. If students kicked back and voted like state store workers, or if the union didn't prioritize solidarity with public employees ahead of their districts funding, maybe this would change. Yes, every $1 spent on this patronage nonsense is $1 that is not used to fund essential services like education. That is a fact.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 27, 2014 5:07 pm
This is not a Democratic or Republican issue. Every time that the word union is brought it is attacked by those who are Conservative. Unions are what made America's economic boom happen by making sure that businesses respected workers instead of them being just "widgets". On the other end the people who support unions good are bad are just as much at fault. It is those with a attitude of attacking unions who are against those who are for rights to workers. This has been the struggle since sweat shops and child labor in the early part of the 1900's. Who's left not represented in this issues? Our Children!! It is everybody's fault. Unions, Conservatives, Liberals, Elected Officials. Instead of do onto others as you would have them done unto you, which is the edict of every religion, be that Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddish, Hindi, or Sihk, it is all about these people individual ideologies and bias. Is there patronage involved in this? Yes? Is there racism? Yes! Is there classicism? Yes! Is there ideology? Yes. But where is the compassion for children? These people who get on their high horse blaming Liberals, Unions, Conservatives, are all in the same boat, selfish. We either stand together or perish alone, happy in the fact that our selfish viewpoint was accomplished. Is this not the "United" states of America, instead of the divided states of America?!! Go to your religious place or worship today or tomorrow and stand up and express these same viewpoints in comments and opinions inside that holy place and see if even you are embarrassed based on what your religion tells you is the correct way to be.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 27, 2014 7:06 pm
It's important to note that that the pension reform doesn't take off pressure with pensions. It means less needs to go out for future employees but less comes in. It doesn't affect the current unfunded mandate. The reporter really shouldn't just repeat the incorrect information they hear. I actually support pension reductions (even for my own class) since a 2.5 multiplier is overly generous. I'd much rather have better wages now so I can save more for my own retirement. Either way, let's not pretend that this political issue solves the unfunded mandate.

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