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Cigarette Tax To Fund Philadelphia Schools Suffers Setback As Pa. State Senate Amends Bill Further

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(Capitol dome, Harrisburg, Pa.   File photo) Tony Romeo
  Tony Romeo is Harrisburg bureau chief for KYW Newsradio...
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By Tony Romeo

HARRISBURG, Pa., (CBS) — The effort to get state approval for a cigarette tax to fund Philadelphia schools has suffered a setback in the state legislature as the state Senate late Tuesday afternoon amended the bill further.

Mayor Michael Nutter tried to remain upbeat, saying the cigarette tax proposal is still alive, but added, “We are caught in a vortex of political hell with no particular path out.”

The mayor says the problem is that the bill containing the cigarette tax language, numbered 1177, also contains provisions such as authorization for hotel taxes in various Pennsylvania locales that are in dispute between the House and Senate.

“It will be very difficult to pass House Bill 1177 loaded with all these hotel taxes and other things which could cost up to $70 million,” said Steve Miski, a spokesman for the House majority leader.

The bill also puts a five year limit on the city cigarette tax. Miskin says it is unclear when the House will return for another voting session to consider the amended bill.

Superintendent William R. Hite issued the following statement regarding the amendment of the cigarette tax bill by legislators in Harrisburg:

“Today’s action to amend the School District-supported cigarette tax legislation throws us back into uncertainty. Adding the sunset provision to end the bill in five years removes urgently needed recurring revenue, which is extremely troubling given our $93 million deficit and the persistent increases in the District’s fixed costs. At full implementation, the cigarette tax was estimated to generate more than $80 million annually. Ending the tax in five years will exacerbate our structural deficit, complicate our long-term planning efforts, make it harder to access the capital markets and strip our schools of educational services and supports.

“With schools scheduled to open in less that two months, it is crucial that we secure the needed funding to support our students and schools. There is no clear timetable for House consideration on this amended bill, nor any guarantee of final passage. We implore the House and Senate to come to agreement immediately on cigarette tax legislation that does not include a sunset provision.”

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