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Philadelphia Lawmakers Grill City's Finance Chief On Planned Property Tax Changes

By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- One day after the head of Philadelphia's School Reform Commission admitted to financial mismanagement under the SRC's previous leadership, City Council members voiced misgivings about raising an extra $90 million to help bail out the school district.

Yesterday, SRC chairman Pedro Ramos told Council's education committee that the "bad fiscal policy" of the previous regime led to the district's massive deficits (see related story).

Today, several councilmembers said that makes it difficult for them to support the mayor's plan to raise at least an extra $90 million for the schools in the coming year, particularly after two years of property tax hikes.

Councilman Jim Kenny made that point today to the mayor's finance director, Rob Dubow.

(Kenney:)   "I can't yet find a justification for explaining to people who I represent citywide why the additional 94 million dollars make sense."

(Dubow:)  "The district understands it too, and they will be making the case and justifying it."

That will come when Ramos returns for the district's formal budget hearing on May 8th.

Echoing Kenney's concerns was 4th District councilman Curtis Jones.

"I'm committed to the end product of students," Jones told Dubow, "but what my colleagues are saying in various ways is, we need to know what we are getting, by way of what the school board's cuts mean, and what the accountability will be.  And until we get those answers, you're asking people to go out there with some heavy lifting."

The mayor says the extra $90 million is the result of switching to a new property assessment system.  But critics, including some on City Council, describe that plan as a "back-door tax increase" and say the new assessment system should be revenue-neutral.

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