This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
by Holly Otterbein for NewsWorks
Could the state-controlled Philadelphia School Reform Commission soon decide how much city residents pay in sales taxes?
Gov. Corbett’s budget secretary, Charles Zogby, said there has been talk in Harrisburg of changing the law to give the SRC that power if City Council does not quickly extend a 1 percent local sales tax that was due to expire.
The tax extension, a key part of Corbett’s funding package for Philadelphia’s cash-strapped School District, would raise up to $120 million for the schools in future years and allow the city to borrow $50 million for them now. The General Assembly authorized the sales tax changes this summer.
"There’s just so much patience that I think folks are going to be prepared to exercise," Zogby said. "If City Council is unwilling to act, I think there’ll be those in Harrisburg who will say, ‘Well, then maybe we need to look at another path and take City Council out of the picture.’"
Council members have balked at Corbett’s funding plan, which they see as desperately short on state dollars. They want to instead split the local sales tax money between the schools and the city’s troubled pension fund, and make up the difference with more state funding and a new cigarette tax.
Mayor Nutter supports those changes as a whole package, but he wants Council to pass the sales-tax extension now so the city can immediately borrow money for the schools. To raise extra money for this year, Council prefers giving the District $50 million in exchange for several properties.
Zogby would not say who, exactly, is talking about giving the SRC power over the city’s sales tax or whether Corbett would endorse it. He said only that the idea has been "raised in some quarters."