IN THE WAKE OF news that the school district's financial woes have deepened, Mayor Nutter on Tuesday renewed his call for City Council to approve his budget plan, which would change the way the city calculates property taxes and provide $90 million more to the schools.
"Last year, we as a city provided additional funding. Support for our schools is no less important this year," Nutter said after the school district announced a $218 million deficit in the coming fiscal year, which would grow if Nutter's budget doesn't get the Council's OK.
That OK is no sure thing. Nutter proposes shifting the city to a property-tax system that relies on market values - known as the "Actual Value Initiative" (AVI). In the process, he would collect $90 million extra for the schools. Critics have called that a "back-door" tax hike, while Nutter says that he's just capturing the increase in city property values.
Some Council members would like to delay implementing AVI for a year because the city is not expected to complete all the property evaluations until after the June 30 budget deadline. Others would like the property-tax plan and additional school funding handled as separate issues.
"While I certainly share the mayor's enthusiasm for better schools, AVI has nothing do with schools revenue," said Councilman Bill Green.
Nutter said that he wasn't sure what Council would achieve by dividing the issues.
"We need to fix the property-assessment system and we need to support high-quality public education," Nutter said. "The district has a $1.1 billion five-year-plan deficit. You cannot escape that . . . and if we don't take significant action, the system will collapse."
Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez agreed that the district needs resources.
"I absolutely understand that the state has abandoned the Philadelphia School District," Quinones-Sanchez said. "As an elected official, I am not prepared to abandon it."
But Councilman Jim Kenney said that he was concerned about voting for additional tax revenues for the fourth year in a row.
"The folks in this city are beleaguered with the taxes we're making them pay," Kenney said.