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Pa. House’s ‘clean’ cigarette-tax bill retains controversial charter element

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

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives stripped contentious provisions from the Philadelphia cigarette-tax authorization bill in a rules committee meeting Tuesday, paving the way for a full chamber vote.

House leadership says that could occur either Wednesday or Monday.

The Philadelphia School District is counting on revenue from the $2-per-pack, city-only cigarette tax to begin flowing in the next few weeks to prevent more than 1,000 layoffs.

Assuming an Oct. 1 implementation, the District expects the tax to generate $49 million this school year.

If passed, the legislation would still require approval by the Senate. But Gov. Corbett has pledged to sign it.

On Tuesday, House lawmakers removed two provisions from the omnibus legislation that leaders have opposed for months — one allowing certain counties to increase hotel taxes and another expanding access to the state’s City Revitalization and Improvement Zone program.

The Senate leadership has championed both, causing the disagreement that derailed cigarette-tax passage in July.

The key question now is, assuming the House passes the bill, will the Senate give its blessing? Or will it amend the bill further, perpetuating the bill’s bruising trip through the legislative pinball machine?

Despite the promise of a "clean bill," the House Rules Committee allowed a controversial charter appeals amendment from Rep. John Taylor, R-Philadelphia, to remain attached.

Charter amendment a sweetener for GOP, says Taylor

This amendment – which would make it easier to create a new charter school in Philadelphia – was added in a last-minute maneuver when the House originally passed the cigarette-tax bill on July 2.

It allows new charter applicants to petition the state Charter Appeals Board (CAB) if they are rejected by the Philadelphia School Reform Commission.

Currently, appeals in Philadelphia are the sole purview of the SRC, which received an exemption from the CAB process in the state-takeover legislation of 2001.

The District hasn’t invited applications for new charters since 2009. Taylor’s amendment would require the district to accept applications annually, like other districts in the state.

Opponents worry that the appeals change would undercut the School District’s ability to manage charter growth and cause charter payments to grow exponentially.

Read the rest of this story at NewsWorks

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