ANOTHER storm is brewing, and we're not talking snow. We're talking about a fresh round of Mayor Nutter vs. City Council.
Nutter is expected to unveil a budget today that will call for a more than 9 percent increase in property taxes to help infuse the Philadelphia School District with desperately needed money, according to sources.
The mayor's proposed property-tax hike of 9.34 percent is likely to put City Council - which must approve Nutter's eighth and final budget - in a difficult position at a time when all 17 council members are up for re-election.
The school district last month asked the city for an extra $103 million to plug a giant budget hole and to help boost school resources. Although Nutter's fiscal-year 2016 budget proposal would fulfill the district's funding request, city homeowners are sure to get prickly about a rise in property taxes.
So Council members may find themselves feeling a bit squeezed between their strong inclination to help ailing city public schools and perhaps their stronger desire to avoid yet another property-tax hike that will rankle constituents.
Nutter and Council raised the property taxes in 2010 and 2011, as Philadelphia and other cities nationwide grappled with a devastating economic downturn.
Some property owners already are smarting from last year's Actual Value Initiative, which resulted in a tax increase for homeowners in neighborhoods where properties had not been reassessed in years.
Under Nutter's proposal, the property-tax rate would rise from about 1.34 percent to roughly 1.47 percent on property-assessment values.
Council President Darrell Clarke, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment yesterday, saying it would be inappropriate to discuss the proposed budget before the mayor officially delivers it, which Nutter plans to do during today's regularly scheduled Council meeting.
Nutter's finance team, however, briefed council members yesterday. Speaking broadly after the budget briefing, some Council members expressed hope that Gov. Wolf's state budget proposal, unveiled earlier this week, would help ease the burden on Philadelphians and would balance out any tax increases.
Wolf's plan calls for a nearly $160 million increase in education funding, which, if approved by the Legislature, would close the school district's projected $80 million budget gap. Wolf also proposed sweeping property-tax cuts, which would be paid for through a hike in state income and sales taxes.
City Councilman Curtis Jones, a Democrat who represents the 4th District, noted that the city now has what he views as an ally in the Governor's Office.
"What we have not had in the past is a governor willing to work with us to look at fair funding formulas, to look at things like special needs, to look at poverty levels of cities, to look at how we can actually get more resources to public education," Jones said after emerging from the mayor's budget briefing.
"So we're looking at that and other revenue adjustments that have been proposed to see how we can actually have a budget that actually educates young people," Jones said.
City Councilman Dennis O'Brien, an at-large Republican, said he has an open mind about the budget proposal, but noted that a lot hinges on whether state lawmakers will embrace Wolf's budget proposal.
"Everything's on the table and nothing is off the table until we have a resolution," O'Brien said. "A lot of the issues that we are going to finalize in our budget are contingent on what's going to happen in Harrisburg."
He added that all parties must face the reality that Harrisburg has to devise a new school-funding formula.
"What the governor put forward as a plan to address those needs may not be exactly what happens in the end, but the realities are the same," O'Brien said. "There's an overwhelming deficit in our schools and general-fund budget, and that affects us dramatically in the city of Philadelphia."
G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College, was skeptical that state lawmakers would approve Wolf's budget as proposed, in which case Philadelphians might have to swallow a property-tax hike that's not offset by state property-tax relief.
"Let's be honest. That's a pretty big gamble," Madonna said. "I'm not saying that [state lawmakers] will not do it. I'm telling you it's a long shot. They've been trying to do property-tax relief for 40 years."
- Staff writer Mensah M. Dean
contributed to this report.