HARRISBURG–Understanding the current political climate surrounding the state Capitol building, state Rep. Rosita C. Youngblood, D-Phila., said she is looking into alternative proposals that will help the struggling School District of Philadelphia weather the fiscal storm it is currently facing.
Youngblood said local and state officials need to “think outside the box” and find ways to help fund city schools. She said the mayor’s proposals to pass additional tax hikes on consumer products like cigarettes and alcohol just do not make sense in today’s political climate. Instead, Youngblood is advocating for the use of already existing revenue from licensed casino gaming that would require no additional taxes on Philadelphia residents, or those visiting the City of Brotherly Love.
“The Republican majority in both the House and Senate, as well as the governor’s office, are not going to sit back and pass legislation to allow Philadelphia to raise taxes,” Youngblood said. “It is evident that the climate in Harrisburg is one of extreme fiscal conservatism, and it is not as simple as some local officials want you to believe.
“The cut to education funding statewide, and the unwillingness of the administration to opt into the federal Medicaid expansion that would bring in hundreds of millions of dollars for the Commonwealth, is proof that they are going to stick to strict conservative ideology,” Youngblood added. “We need to think outside the box and provide solutions to our school funding problems that can use existing revenue from existing sources.”
Youngblood supports state Rep. Mike O’Brien’s, D-Phila., plan to temporarily divert gaming revenue used for wage tax reductions to the School District. She said the school district would get nearly $90 million a year by simply re-prioritizing the use of gaming funds, shifting them to school operations, for the next five years.
In addition, Youngblood plans to introduce a bill that would use all of Philadelphia’s local share assessment revenue, which is a tax imposed on just casinos located in Philadelphia, for city schools. Under current law, only the first $5 million of this local share assessment is allocated to the school district, with the remaining money going to the city’s General Fund.
It is estimated the city will receive almost $10 million from the gaming local share assessment this year, Youngblood said. And with a second casino on the horizon, it is estimated the city could see nearly $20 million a year from this revenue moving forward.
“If you couple both proposals that utilize existing gaming revenue, you are looking at nearly $110 million a year in dedicated funding that could help our schools and boost the education of our children,” she said.
Aside from existing gaming revenue, Youngblood said she is combing through other potential revenue sources from various pools of funding to provide relief to Philadelphia’s schools, and the children they educate. She said the city cannot rely on proposals that require heavy lifting at a time when political leaders at the state level are driven by national ideological platforms.
“City officials come knocking on the doors here in Harrisburg asking for tax increases without understanding the climate they are dealing with,” Youngblood said. “It’s like going to Florida in August and packing a suitcase of sweaters and wool coats. It just doesn’t make sense.
“Most importantly, we must never lose sight of what is really at stake here – maintaining the chance at a quality education for tens of thousands of our city’s children.”