Philadelphia, May 15, 2013– Mayor Michael A. Nutter hosted a press conference with Dr. William R. Hite, Superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia, State Senator Anthony Williams and City officials to announce a package of proposals to generate $95 million in new revenue to fund the Philadelphia School District. His prepared remarks follow, (check against delivery):
“As Mayor, my goal has been to ensure that every child in the City of Philadelphia is provided a quality education – that each young person has a chance to be successful in the classroom, whether in a School District run school or a Charter, and later to be a productive, self-sustaining adult.
We adults owe our young people a quality education that will help them develop, will challenge them and will teach them new and useful things.
We owe our children a rich educational experience with music and arts programs, with after-school activities and small class sizes. We owe our students an educational experience in which we have invested in their teachers, books, computers and learning materials.
Every day, I talk about the requirements of a 21st century economy. Foremost is my concern that we have an abundance of well-educated Philadelphians to fill the new jobs of an increasingly technical and knowledge-based economy. We will not progress as a city of the future, if we don’t invest now in our children’s education.
If we don’t focus on our young people and invest in their education now and in the years to come, we won’t have a 21st century workforce ready for the new economy. And we’ll have grave difficulties in attracting the new jobs that we need.
Dr. Hite and the SRC have been quite candid about the School District’s fiscal situation over the past year or so. And they have acted, cutting more than $315 million in school-based costs.
If we don’t provide the new funding being sought by the SRC and Dr. Hite, our young people will suffer under a devastating bare-bones budget. The quality of education in Philadelphia will plummet. And, we will all suffer as a result – poverty, unemployment, crime, lost wages and a lack of personal opportunity.
Last week, members of the Philadelphia legislative delegation to Harrisburg and I hosted a media conference at Andrew Jackson Public School. We talked about the need for a “shared sacrifice” by the City, the Commonwealth, the District and the school unions, a shared sacrifice to protect and invest in public education and, most importantly, our children.
I was proud to stand with other elected officials and pledge my support, as I am today.
Today, I am announcing a proposed revenue package to generate new money for investing in the education of Philadelphia school children. This set of revenue proposals is sustainable and substantial – and the key is, it’s doable.
As I’ve said previously, I support an increase to the liquor by the drink tax. Our proposed increase will generate approximately an additional $22 million by increasing the tax from 10 percent to 15 percent. This increase would start on July 1, 2013.
I am also proposing a City cigarette tax. The City currently has a tobacco tax but cigarettes are not included in that tax. The cigarette tax we are proposing would begin in January 2014 and at $2 per pack, it would generate about $45 million in just half of the fiscal year.
Almost all of the revenue from this tax would be used to invest in educating our children but a very small amount would go to our Health Department to continue the Smoking Cessation Program.
There are almost 280,000 smokers in Philadelphia. That is a huge number of people. We have 2,100 smoking related deaths each year and enormous smoking related health care costs, as a result.
And unfortunately, many of those smokers started when they were school-aged students. Death from smoking is the number one cause of death for Philadelphians. We must address this great challenge.
The increase to the liquor by the drink tax and the new cigarette tax proposal will require General Assembly authorization and approval by the City Council. We expect bills to be introduced in the Pennsylvania House and Senate very soon. Let me thank the chairs of our delegations – House Chairwoman Representative Cherelle Parker and Chairwoman Senator Shirley Kitchen for their leadership, and all of the members of our State delegation for their concern and their commitment.
The last piece of our revenue package is improved tax collection. It’s something taxpaying Philadelphians have demanded, and we’ve put together a very comprehensive program.
Under the leadership of Revenue Commissioner Clarena Tolson and Chief Revenue Collections Officer Tom Knudsen, we anticipate an improvement in tax collection that will result in an additional $28 million for educating our students in the coming fiscal year.
We will focus on delinquent real estate taxes, liquor by the drink, Use and Occupancy and school income taxes. We’re going to get much more aggressive with these non-paying taxpayers and we’ll use outside collection agencies where needed.
In total, that is $95 million in new, first year, City-generated revenue, which will benefit the 200,000 Philadelphia children served by the Philadelphia School District and our many Charter schools.
I propose these two “use” taxes because we have raised general broad based taxes twice in the last two years on our residents and business owners and we cannot and should not keep asking them for more.
Before I turn it over to Dr. Hite, I want to say one last thing. When we were kids, we had strong schools and a strong school system, regardless of what school system we attended, that prepared us for the future.
My education in school and at home is a huge part of why I chose a career in public service. My education is and continues to be the main reason that I have had any success in my life.
The children of this City deserve what we had. They deserve a high quality education. And I am going to fight for them to have it.
I want to introduce Dr. William Hite, who in his first year as Philadelphia Superintendent, faced the systemic fiscal issues at the School District and has made it clear that “the buck stops here.”
He and the SRC have made tough choices. They made those choices to ensure the quality of education the School District provides to our children. He has my full support.
Now, it’s time for our political leaders to step up or step aside.”