New Philly budget restores some funds for affordable housing and arts, cancels $19 million police increase

Protesters at the Pennsylvania Convention Center urge police to ‘take a knee in solidarity.’ (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Protesters at the Pennsylvania Convention Center urge police to ‘take a knee in solidarity.’ (Emma Lee/WHYY)

After weeks of protests, Philadelphia City Council approved a preliminary budget that cancels a planned $19 million increase to police department’s budget and restores some funds previously cut for affordable housing, arts and culture, adult education and anti-poverty programs.

The African American Museum won a full restoration of the $350,000 allocation Mayor Jim Kenney had cut in his initial spending plan.

Council approved the proposed 2021 fiscal year plan late Wednesday night in a Zoom meeting with no public comment. The $4.9 billion package is expected to receive a vote by the full City Council within the week before going to the mayor’s desk for his signature.

“The lack of access to affordable housing, health care, living-wage jobs and healthy foods has been exposed by these crises – along with many problems. We cannot go back to that old normal,” City Council President Darrell Clarke said in a statement issued at 12:05 a.m. Thursday. “We need to create a ‘New Normal’ and address these disparities head on. I believe this budget is an important start towards doing that.”

The tentative agreement shaves tens of millions off the Philadelphia Police Department’s budget at a time when advocates are calling to defund the force in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis, Breonna Taylor’s killing in Louisville, and other police violence nationwide.

The revised spending plan will move $14 million from the police budget to the Managing Director’s Office in City Hall, putting $12.3 million for crossing guards and $1.9 million for a new fleet of public safety enforcement officers under the office’s control.

Kenney offered approval of the tentative spending plan in a statement that also acknowledged the loss of hundreds of city jobs and a range of service reductions that will be the outgrowth of the $749 million budget hole caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“It pains me that this budget reduces some city services and eliminates hundreds of jobs,” Kenney said. “Still, we have prioritized core services, protected our most vulnerable residents, and maintained our financial flexibility to enable a quick rebound.”

Council restored a $20 million investment in the Housing Trust Fund, which was set to lose $14 million under Kenney’s proposed spending plan. Councilmembers Helen Gym, Jamie Gauthier and Kendra Brooks had led an aggressive fight against those cuts and others to anti-eviction programs and other housing initiatives.

“There is an eviction and homelessness crisis at our doorstep and housing is the last place that we want to be making cuts, at a time when Philadelphians need housing protections more than ever,” Brooks said in late May. “Housing is not only a basic human necessity but the cornerstone of protecting public health. Our city budget must reflect that.”

Council also restored $1 million to the Cultural fund that supports many community-based arts organizations.

To account for the persisting revenue gaps, the preliminary budget will also keep the Philadelphia Fire Department’s funding at its current levels. The administration said it hopes to generate $5 million in other savings within the PFD. Finance officials also claim a restructuring of the city’s overburdened pension debt will yield another $80 million in savings over the coming fiscal year.

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