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Philadelphia City Council Feels Squeeze of Budget Deadline Amid Open Questions

By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- With a June 1st deadline looming, some City Council members say they're not ready to vote for Mayor Nutter's budget for Philadelphia, because it's unclear if Harrisburg will approve some protections for city homeowners on the property tax front.

The mayor's budget hinges on state approval of a homestead exemption, and separately, gaining the ability to adjust the split of property taxes between the city and the school district.

City finance director Rob Dubow testified that the mayor does not now have a "plan B" if the effort in Harrisburg fails.  Council members like Mark Squilla were incredulous.

(Squilla:)  "At this point we do not have another option?"

(Dubow:)  "Right."

(Squilla:)  "So if we don't get our response from Harrisburg…"

(Dubow:)  "Yes, getting that is crucial."

Without the state approvals, the new property tax system that Nutter wants could end up creating monumental increases for owners.  Councilman Jim Kenney pointed that out to Dubow.

(Kenney:)  "People are going to be jumping off a bridge.  Or throwing us off."

(Dubow:)  "And that's the case that we're making in Harrisburg…

(Kenney:)  "But you do have a Plan B?"

(Dubow:)  "We don't have a Plan B yet."

Kenney and others voiced misgivings about having to vote on the budget even before it's clear whether Harrisburg will act.

Councilman Bill Greenlee said he's heard that "there's problems in Harrisburg" with getting the state measures approved.

"Yes," replied Dubow, "and we're trying to work through those."   Dubow made clear he did not want to elaborate in a public hearing.

City Council president Darrell Clarke said Council may start developing a failback option on its own.

"It's getting pretty late in the game in terms of Plan B," he said today.

Mayor Nutter proposes moving to a new assessment system in such a way that an additional $94 million would be generated for the school district.  Critics call that a "back door tax increase."

Councilman Bill Green is pushing his alternative: keeping the assessment system revenue-neutral while boosting a separate tax that affects only commercial property owners, to bring in the extra school funding.

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