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Williams defends vote for sunset amendment on cigarette tax

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams has been criticized for being the only Philadelphia Democrat in the Senate to vote for an amendment that would "sunset" the $2-a-pack cigarette tax for Philadelphia schools after five years.

In a statement sent to reporters, Williams said he did so as the best choice available to get the tax approved.

Following is the text of his statement:

Earlier today, some individuals expressed anger over the political process of gaining support for the proposed cigarette tax, including my vote on an amendment to House Bill 1177 that included, among other things, a five-year sunset provision for the tax. I certainly understand and share the frustration that all of us feel who have worked so hard to win support for the critically important cigarette tax.

Over the last two years, I have worked hard to secure two major new sources of funding for the children of Philadelphia: first, the dedication of the 1 percent sales tax for school use, which was enacted last year; and now, the cigarette tax. When I introduced the legislation to authorize the expansion of Philadelphia’s cigarette tax, I knew that it would be a tough battle. Yet we all persevered, and throughout this struggle I have worked with my colleagues in the Senate and House, on both sides of the aisle, to find a solution for our schools.

To keep the cigarette tax bill alive, last night I made a decision to support moving the bill out of the Senate Rules Committee and get it to the floor for a vote where all of my Democratic colleagues voted in support of it. A 5-year “sunset” provision was included in the amendment, but I was able to remove additional language that would have hurt the Philadelphia School District. I voted to support the amendment, and I did so because it appeared that the cigarette tax would have been defeated without the amendment. In my view, it was the only responsible choice to assure the passage of this critical funding source for Philadelphia’s public schools.

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