Pension reform, Philly school funding won’t derail lawmakers’ vacations


By Andrew Staub | PA Independent

Pennsylvania state House members can go ahead and slice some more limes and order another pitcher of pina coladas.

Their summer break can continue uninterrupted without the headache of addressing pension costs, which are strangling school districts, or the burdensome task of parsing through amendment-laden legislation that would bolster funding for the School District of Philadelphia by increasing the cigarette tax.

House Speaker Sam Smith, R-Jefferson, and Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, on Thursday announced the cancellation of session days scheduled next week. They’ll vote on the pension and cigarette tax legislation later.

VACATION ALL I EVER WANTED: Members of the Pennsylvania state House don’t have to worry about their summer break being interrupted now that August session days have been scuttled.

“After conversations with Republican and Democratic House leadership teams, we will plan on taking up legislation dealing with education in Philadelphia when we return in September,” Turzai said.

“We are focused on quality education for the children of Philadelphia, which includes some new, dedicated funding and the charter application and appeal process reform. We are also focused on needed public pension reform, which for Philadelphia, skyrockets up to $193 million next year.”

In the meantime, maybe Gov. Tom Corbett could advance the Philadelphia School District some money so it can open on time, Smith and Turzai wrote in a letter to the governor.

“If such funding is not advanced, we fear that the education of thousands of Philadelphia school children will be in jeopardy,” they wrote.

That wouldn’t be unprecedented. The GOP leaders noted that Corbett advanced $400 million to district the prior fiscal year.

The scuttled session days are just the latest setback for the Philadelphia cigarette tax, which is part of a bill that lawmakers have turned into a tangled mess of amendments. Hotel tax increases and a tax abatement program — included in the legislation that would authorize a higher cigarette tax — needs more vetting, Smith said.

The changes have kept the legislation moving between the House and Senate, with Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter referring to it as the “political vortex from hell.”

Democratic leadership in the House wasn’t pleased about the canceled session days. Delaying the authorization of a higher cigarette tax could disrupt the school year and the work schedules of parents and caregivers, House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, said in a statement.

“House Democrats were and are prepared to come back and finish the work needed to ensure that the Philadelphia schools will open on time. All of Pennsylvania’s children need their education to continue without interruption,” he said.

The same might be said for lawmakers’ summer break.