City and state legislators show signs of agreeing on a budget

State Sen. Larry Farnese gathered with members of City Council today to announce he is withdrawing his amendment to a bill necessary to implement a city budget that includes Mayor Michael Nutter’s Actual Value Initiative of property tax reform because he is confident that local lawmakers will institute his proposed changes on their own.

“Basically, my amendment was going to do what City Council was already going to do,” Farnese said. The senator threw somewhat of a wrench in the Nutter administration’s
proposed shift to the Actual Value Initiative, in which properties will
be taxed based on their true market value, when he introduced the
amendment in mid-May to a
state bill allowing the city to set a tax rate. That bill must
pass Harrisburg in order for the city to implement the tax overhaul.

Farnese’s amendment would have barred the city from collecting revenue for the
School District directly from property reassessments, forcing lawmakers
to consider the tax reform independently from the issue of delegating more money to schools.”I wanted to ensure that AVI and School
District funding were kept as two separate issues,” he said.

But he withdrew the proposal following a Friday brunch meeting between members of the Philadelphia delegation of the state Senate and members of
Council. “At this point, I have received assurances that they
will not be wrapped up in one vote, they will be separate,” he said.
“How City Council does that, the legislative process … it’s going to
be basically up to them.”

Farnese said that, given the assurances, the bill allowing the city to set a tax rate should pass in the next few days.

The tentative consensus among state and local lawmakers may represent a
significant step forward in agreeing on a budget. Council members have in recent weeks cited uncertainty in Harrisburg as a large contributing factor to their reservations about voting for budget that includes AVI, while state officials have pointed to divides among Philadelphia lawmakers as reason to stall legislation necessary to implement it.

Council members said that communication with the state Senate has made them more confident in their
ability to move ahead with passing the budget, whose deadline expired
June 1. “This is the first time I’ve seen state officials sitting down with city officials and talking about the business of preparing for the school year,” Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. said, adding that he believes the increased level of collaboration will continue beyond the budget.

The decision Council makes may not be exactly what the Nutter administration was hoping for. “The administration has determined they are going to establish the Actual Value system,” Council President Darrell Clarke said. “We have significant concerns about doing that this year and we have to look at all the alternatives to not do that this year.”

Clarke said that Council’s two biggest concerns concerning AVI have been putting in place protective measures for homeowners who may see a large jump in property tax bills and increasing School District accountability for how money Council dedicates to the body is spent. “At the end of the day, for support for revenue to go to the School District, we must have in place significant accountability measures” he said.

He could not yet detail what the accountability measures might look like, but called the budget “a moving process that is quickly coming to an end.” He said that a hearing scheduled for 3 p.m. tomorrow could be the first or final step in that process. “I simply ask members of the press to stay tuned,” he said.

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