'I don’t want to raise your taxes but I do want to educate our children'
Mayor Michael Nutter delivered his eighth and final budget proposal in front of a full house at City Council chambers articulating key investments and, as expected, particular focus on public education.
The proposed $3.95 billion budget included $90 million in added expenditures, out of which $78 million will go toward rising employee costs including pension, health care and arbitration awards.
Then as several outlets had reported a day earlier, Nutter proposed a 9.34 percent property tax increase “to raise $105 million to support Philadelphia schools.” The projected deficit of the Philadelphia School District for the 2015-16 school year is about $80 million.
Superintendent William Hite had already requested $103 million and $206 million from the Commonwealth.
“Let me say very clearly. I don’t want to raise your taxes, but I do want to educate our children,” Nutter said. “If I am going to make a choice between raising revenue or educating our children, I’m going to be for our kids every time.”
Nutter believes that his proposal along with Governor Tom Wolf’s new education measures will eliminate the District’s deficit and provide for investment.
City Council President Darrell Clarke said Nutter’s proposed budget is more or less consistent with his previous one, specifically in the uncertainty about support for the School District of Philadelphia.
“We must analyze the impacts of Governor Wolf’s proposed property tax relief and Mayor Nutter’s proposed 9.34 percent rate increase on households,” Clarke said. “It will be some time before we have more certainty about whether the General Assembly will do its part to support our students.”
He said City Council will work with the administration to ensure its priorities. “Better public schools, wage fairness for workers, stronger commercial corridors, expanding the tax base, ensuring everyone pays their fair share, and making every neighborhood in Philadelphia a neighborhood of choice,” Clarke said.
Mayoral candidate Nelson Díaz release a public statement where he said Nutter’s last budget proposal made it clear they've reached the end of the road with the current tax system. “Without fundamental, soup-to-nuts reform, we're going to continue to be forced into choosing between nearly double-digit tax increases on residential property taxpayers or funding our schools,” said Díaz.
“We need to shift the burden off of small businesses and the struggling middle class and broaden our tax base. There's a better way forward, and I'll work with the City Council and with Harrisburg to make these kind of 'damned if you, damned if you don't' choices a thing of the past," Díaz said.
Furthermore, mayoral candidate Lynne Abraham suggested a complete analysis of the entire tax structure.
"Public schools are the city's most urgent priority. Mayor Nutter's proposal to increase property tax in aid of schools deserves careful consideration, but what is needed is a complete analysis and rationalization of our entire tax structure," Abraham said. "Everything needs to be on the table."
Some of the budget highlights include:
-$3.4 million for Community College of Philadelphia to offset the need to increase tuition as well as funding capital needs.
- $6 million for improvements to police and fire stations and other facilities.
-$3.6 million for the Police Department to expand the use of body cameras worn by officers and to support mandatory training and equipment including 1,300 new bulletproof vests.
-$5 million for improvements to neighborhood commercial corridors including curbs, sidewalks, lighting, landscaping and parking.
-$31.9 million for the Office of Innovation and Technology to make citywide technology improvements, including the creation a new data warehouse for the Department of Revenue which will help the city capture even more delinquent tax revenues: $5.7 million in FY16 and a total of $20 million over the Five Year Plan.
-$22 million for the purchase of new voting machines.