$5.6 billion Philly budget officially introduced in City Council

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney offered a message of hope as part of his seventh annual budget address to a virtual session of Philadelphia City Council.

Philadelphia “is well positioned for recovery in the wake of the pandemic,” Kenney said in the address delivered via a pre-recorded video.

The city has to continue “to make difficult and strategic choices … to ensure our resources are best directed to pressing issues facing Philadelphians today,” he said.

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The mayor offered a no-tax-increase budget, but admitted increased real estate values will require the city to offer some tax relief while giving homeowners the opportunity to build wealth. Kenney said the administration would work on tax-relief and reforms “scaled to the magnitude of the changes as the data becomes available during the budget process.”

The mayor offered some highlights from the more than $5 billion dollar spending plan, including aid for small business corridors through a $13 million economic stimulus program. The budget also sets aside $500,000 for a new Emergency Grant Program and $7 million for the PHL Taking Care of Business Corridor Cleaning Program.

Philadelphia is expected to receive a billion dollars through the federal government infrastructure program. It will give the city “an enormous opportunity to mobilize these investments in service of dismantling the structural barriers that have excluded Black and brown business owners and workers from public works projects,” Kenney said.

The budget includes “a $20 million investment, and $116 million over the five-year plan, to prepare for the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law so that Philadelphia can compete successfully for federal dollars and deliver high-quality infrastructure projects,” he said.

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Kenney also addressed recent complaints about under-staffed libraries in his budget, offering $48 million over the next five years to keep libraries operating.

He also expressed his intention to close the so-called “digital divide” by expanding on the PHLConnectED initiative as part of the city’s digital equity plan.

“Together, these investments prioritize the quality education of children, youth, and adults to support a more rapid and equitable recovery, and to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty,” he said.

The spending by the city will also continue to increase for anti-violence efforts with $184 million dollars, an 18.5% increase over the current year’s budget.

The funding will be used for more police mobility and forensic upgrades and modernization of police tools, including enhanced forensic analysis in every homicide.

Money will also be devoted to co-responders or CIRT teams, for those calling 9-1-1 with behavioral response issues. The expansion will make behavioral health teams available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The opioid crisis is also addressed in the budget with just over $5 million for support services and safety in Kensington, with another $5 million dedicated to offer homeless services for those suffering from Opioid Use Disorder who are chronically homeless.

The budget also includes funding for every city department to produce a racial equity action plan to improve equity, “through their budget, procurement, and core services or programs,” Kenney said. He added the work is designed to “reduce racial disparities across many indicators for success — education, criminal justice, jobs, housing, health, and more.”

The mayor said his budget is “the embodiment of hope, and demonstrates the determination to make our city a better place to live, work, and visit.” He called on Council to “show the world that our city never backs down, never gives in, and that we are, and always will be, stronger together. “

The budget has a thin margin, with just $153 million dollars in unspent revenue. Kenney admits that’s “not enough to cover city finances in the event of another emergency or unforeseen economic downturn.” He’s hopeful that the city can build back its fund balance or surplus to prepare for the next disruption similar to COVID.

In response to the budget address, Council President Darrell Clarke said the mayor’s no new taxes budget is likely to go over well in council. Clarke said he would like to see a quadrupling of the extra money for CLIP, the Community Life Improvement Program. CLIP is used to enforce the quality-of-life violations and improve the appearance of neighborhoods.

“People don’t understand why the city isn’t working with communities” in helping clean up, other than dumping of trash and other quality of life issues that are continually cropping up, Clarke said.

He said a proposed wealth tax that would add an additional levy on those at the top of the economic spectrum will have to be discussed during the budget hearing process. That plan could face legal challenges due to the uniformity clause in the Pennsylvania Constitution. That clause requires all local and state taxes be flat, with the same percentage applied to all taxpayers or properties.

The spending plan now goes to Council for review, with amendments expected to be added before it is approved ahead of the city charter-mandated end of June deadline.

Public hearings on the plan begin on April 6.

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