By Mike Dunn
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Will City Council go along with the mayor’s plan to hike property taxes by nearly ten percent in order to help the Philadelphia school system? That’s the key question this morning as lawmakers open two months of hearings on the Nutter budget.
As the budget hearings open, issue #1 is the School District’s request for an additional $103 million in city funding. Mayor Nutter proposes a 9.3% property tax hike to raise those funds, but no council member so far has embraced that idea.
Council President Darrell Clarke says the state needs to do more. “The annual school crisis is before us, and at some point, we’d really like to see the state pony up the revenue that was requested by the School District.”
The District wants $206 million more from Harrisburg.
Clarke’s colleagues on Council are clearly hesitant to support a property tax hike two years after a citywide property reassessment caused the tax bills of many residents to jump. Councilman Bill Greenlee doubts the Mayor’s plan will fly.
“A lot of us — and I’m one — feel that this almost 10-percent real estate tax increase is probably not the best way to go at this point,” said Greenlee. “Obviously there will be a lot of questions, and we got a lot of decisions to make.”
So over the ensuing weeks and months, expect City Council members to pitch their own alternative methods of raising that cash, including potential cuts to city services.
“I think there’s a combination of things that we could do that would help us generate recurring revenue, without looking at the property (tax) increase as the only option,” says Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez. “I think Council, as it has done in the last five years, we’re going to discuss all those options, discuss them with the Administration, and end up somewhere.”
One proposal being mentioned is to shift the proportion of property that goes to the District from 55% to 60%, which could raise about $50 million more from the schools, though at the expense of the city’s own general fund.
Meantime Council President Clarke this morning is announcing what he says is a new approach to the entire budget hearing process — one that focuses on Council’s own policy goals rather than line item spending.
“We’re going to focus on those priorities,” said Clarke. “And we’re going to ask the Administration — all departments — to tell us how we will be in a position to get those priorities established in the city of Philadelphia.”
Clarke said he will lay out those priorities at a news conference prior to the start of the budget hearings.