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House Cancels Mid-Summer Session

House GOP leaders announced Thursday that they will not return to Session next week to vote on a bill that would enable Philadelphia to increase its cigarette tax as a means to funding its public schools, nor to address pension issues.

The House and Senate not now slated to return until September 15, one week after the start of the school year. In the background, behind the decision were a large group of Representatives who were unwilling to vote for any tax increases, others who were holding out support pending other issues in the legislation, and even a few who advised leaders they were unwilling to forego scheduled vacations with families.

Earlier in the week, House Majority Whip Stan Saylor (R-York) had said he and fellow York County Representative Seth Grove would oppose the bill unless provisions for hotel room tax increases to generate tourism dollars and the City Revitalization and Improvement Zone (CRIZ) expansions were included. The Speaker had called those provisions issues which require more in depth discussion.

And of course, as is often the case, several others said they would oppose the bill if those provisions were included. It was unlikely that the bill could have gotten the 102 votes necessary for passage without amendments.

Philadelphia school officials said that the schools will not be able to open safely without the ability to generate additional revenue through the cigarette tax increase, noting that they would begin sending layoff notices to teachers unless the legislature passed the tax – expected to raise about $83 million – before August 15.  House Speaker Sam Smith and Majority Leader Mike Turzai asked Governor Corbett to advance funds to the School District of Philadelphia to ensure an on-time opening.

The House GOP leaders also said a vote on a public pension overhaul proposal is expected the chamber returns to session this fall.