Asking Gov. Tom Corbett to advance the School District of Philadelphia education funding, Speaker of the House Sam Smith (R-Jefferson) and House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) Thursday announced the public pension reform and a bill dealing primarily with the Philadelphia school district will be voted in September.
"We were prepared to come into session next week to vote once again for the enabling legislation for the Philadelphia schools," Rep. Smith said. "We worked hard to reach consensus on the additional public policy questions presented in the Senate-passed version of House Bill 1177 (Lucas-R- Crawford), namely expansion in hotel taxes and the city redevelopment program.
"We are working with the Senate and governor to ensure Philadelphia has the resources it needs to keep the schools open. As we work out details of the legislation, we have requested the governor advance the Philadelphia School District funds necessary to ensure schools open on time in the city."
The hotel tax increases and City Revitalization and Improvement Zone (CRIZ) expansions require a more in-depth policy discussion, including House committees and the entire House, Rep. Smith said. The issues have not been vetted sufficiently in the House to get just an up-or-down vote.
"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," Rep. 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."
According to school district officials, the enabling legislation would generate $1.6 million per week, meaning, if the cigarette tax had passed the General Assembly, been signed by the governor and fully implemented by July 1, 2014, $20.8 million would be collected for the School District of Philadelphia by the end of September. The district's budget totals $2.8 billion, of which nearly 45 percent are state funds.
Advancing the state dollars is nothing new. In fact, the governor transferred $400 million in payments to the School District of Philadelphia earlier than scheduled from the Department of Education in the 2013-14 fiscal year.
Both Rep. Smith and Rep. Turzai noted that last year, the General Assembly acted to lift the expiration of the 1 percent Sales and Use Tax for Philadelphia to dedicate up to $120 million of proceeds to the school district. Philadelphia City Council refused to enact the needed enabling legislation for almost a year.
House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny) made this statement regarding the cancellation of next week's House voting session:
"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.
"This additional delay in authorizing a higher cigarette tax just for the city of Philadelphia is a huge disappointment because it could disrupt the school year of more than 200,000 children, as well as the work schedules of their parents and other caregivers.
"Gov. Corbett needs to work with state and city leaders to ensure that the state's largest school district opens on time and stays open for the full school year. He appoints most of the commission that oversees Philadelphia public schools and he is ultimately responsible for what happens there."House Democrats remain ready to be part of fixing this problem, and we want that to happen. But it requires leadership from the governor and the majority in the legislature."