PHILADELPHIA — The mayor of Philadelphia has proposed increasing taxes on cigarettes and liquor as part of an effort to avoid budget cuts to the city's struggling school district.
Mayor Michael Nutter said increasing the tax on liquor by the drink from 10 percent to 15 percent beginning in July would raise an estimated $22 million.
He said a new $2-per-pack city cigarette tax to begin in January would raise an estimated $45 million.
Both measures would require approval of state lawmakers as well as the City Council.
The mayor says he's also counting on improved tax collections to generate another $28 million in the next fiscal year.
The Philadelphia Inquirer says Nutter stressed that the money would benefit not only district students but those who attend the city's 84 taxpayer-funded charter schools.
He said the plan to help address the district's $304 million deficit was "sustainable and substantial — and the key is, it's doable."
Erik Arneson, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, said he didn't believe the senator had been briefed on the mayor's proposals but said they would be "an uphill climb."
He told The Inquirer that lawmakers had granted limited taxing powers to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in the past but "it is never done lightly, and it is never an especially easy thing to work through the General Assembly."
The school district, the largest in the state, serves about 204,000 traditional and charter school students on a nearly $2.7 billion budget.
The huge deficit could leave schools without assistant principals, guidance counselors, lunch monitors, athletic programs, extracurricular activities and other vital resources next fall.
The mayor earlier this month called for $60 million from the City Council, $120 million from the state and about $130 million from unions through contract concessions.
That plea came two days after hundreds of students — some of whom walked out of class — converged on district headquarters to protest the planned cuts.