Smoking in Philadelphia just got more expensive. Pa. Gov. Tom Corbett signed into law a bill raising the tax on a pack of cigarettes sold in the city by $2, bringing the price per pack to $7.80. The new tax is in addition to the existing excise tax on a pack of cigarettes of $1.60.
The state Budget Office estimated the tax will raise about $55 million annually for the Philadelphia School District, but some estimate the annual revenue for Philadelphia's schools as high as $83 million.
Although pleased by the new funds that will be provided by the cigarette tax, Philadelphia's Mayor Michael Nutter said the School District still has financial difficulties ahead. While the cigarette tax was "essential to balancing the district's budget, it is not sufficient funding to provide the high-quality education that every Philadelphia student deserves," he said.
The cigarette tax, which became a political football between Democratic and Republican lawmakers over the past two years, couldn't come soon enough for the local school system, which experienced widespread layoffs and school closings in recent years.
Rep. Bill Adolph, chairman of the state's House Appropriations Committee, said at the bill-signing ceremony that legislators from rural school districts don't understand how costly it is to educate Philadelphia's 200,000 students. To lower those costs by about $200 million, he said, Philadelphia school officials had to close underused schools and reduce staff.
William R. Hite, Superintendent of Philadelphia Schools, said the promise of additional money from the cigarette tax allowed the school district to open earlier this month without laying off more staff or closing additional schools.