Senate backs higher cigarette tax to pay for Philly schools

By Eric Boehm | PA Independent

Smokers in Philadelphia soon could be paying extra taxes to support the city’s schools.

The state Senate on Monday approved an amendment that would allow the City Council to impose a $2 per-pack tax on cigarettes to generate an estimated $83 million for the cash-strapped School District of Philadelphia. School district and city officials have been asking for the new tax as part of an effort to boost funding for the district.

CIGARETTE TAX: The Philadelphia School District says it needs revenue from a new tax on cigarettes, or schools won’t open in September. It’s unclear whether they will get what they seek.

The amendment won bipartisan support and was approved 40-10, with all 10 “nays” coming from Republicans. A final vote on the bill, HB 1177, could occur as soon as Tuesday.

After that, it’s not very clear what will happen.

The state House would have to also pass the bill, but Republican leaders in the House have been opposed to the cigarette tax for Philly schools.

But the cigarette tax could also be part of a larger deal — Gov. Tom Corbett last week indicated he would be willing to agree to the higher cigarette taxes in exchange for Democratic votes on a pension-reform plan being discussed in the state House.

Corbett on Monday reiterated his support for the cigarette tax but said he still sees it as part of a larger deal.

“While this action addresses the immediate needs of the Philadelphia school district, let me be clear, I continue to fight for meaningful pension reform for Philadelphia schools and all schools across the commonwealth, which will provide a long-term solution for them,” the governor said in a statement.

Last year, the General Assembly extended a supposedly temporary 1-percent sales tax increase in Philadelphia, with the idea of using the revenue for schools. City leaders want to use part of the sales tax revenue for other purposes and have asked for the higher cigarette taxes to fill the gap.

Philadelphia schools will not be able to open in September unless the higher taxes are approved, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said this week.

Pennsylvania already applies a $1.60 excise tax on cigarettes..

Boehm can be reached at Eric@PAIndependent.com and follow @PAIndependent on Twitter for more.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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