State lawmakers are now on the clock.
City Council President Darrell Clarke announced yesterday the council-approved $2 cigarette tax, along with more aggressive tax collections, would raise more than $74 million for the school district. District officials originally asked the city for $60 million.
While City Council did approve the tax, it must be OK'ed by the state. Early indications show the tax is expected to face an uphill battle in the State House.
Clarke expressed hope that the tax would pass to help fill the $304 million budget gap.
He said he hopes the tax passes "In a very timely way."
The liquor-by-the-drink tax increase from 10 percent to 15 percent is essentially dead, officials said.
If state lawmakers do not pass the cigarette tax, Clarke said he can guarantee the school district at least $30 million. Clarke would not discuss a Plan B option if the vote doesn't carry. No new city taxes can be submitted after July 1, and Council is expected to pass its budget on Thursday and then break for summer recess.
Helen Gym, founder of Parents United for Public Education, said in a statement the group "expected City Council to do everything possible to guarantee the maximum amount of school funds to the District - not to scoot by with the least they can get away with."
"The proposal announced today by City Council President Darrell Clarke is simply not enough," she wrote. "The cigarette tax still relies on Harrisburg approval. Delinquent taxes are not a source of emergency funding."
The business tax referred to as the use and occupancy tax, proposed by Councilwomen Quinnose-Sanchez and Blondell Reynolds Brown, could still be in play. Sanchez, who admitted to uneasiness with business owners over a second straight hike, said she would decide on whether to push the bill Thursday.
"Although there are other school districts that are impacted across the state, none have taken the actions that we've taken over the past 18 months," said William Hite, schools superintendent, in regards to his plea to the state for additional funding. "So trying to make that case that we're trying to do as much as we can to control spending and we need additional revenue from all of our sources state, labor and the city."