Philadelphia budget hearings begin

 Philadelphia Council President Darrell Clarke and Councilman Bill Greenlee confer Tuesday. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

Philadelphia Council President Darrell Clarke and Councilman Bill Greenlee confer Tuesday. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

Philadelphia City Council has started its budget hearings.  

Two big questions that have costly implications are dominating the discussion.

 First to testify Tuesday was Jane Slusser, Mayor Jim Kenney’s chief of staff.  The city could be facing some serious issues, she said, depending on what’s in or out of the federal budget.

“The Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts would be devastating to Philadelphia, with reductions in federal spending in a variety of areas including low-income housing; emergency management; law enforcement; fire protection; health programming; and numerous other critical services,” she said.

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Because Philadelphia is a sanctuary city, it could lose additional money from Washington and Harrisburg. Slusser continued.

Sanctuary cities shelter unauthorized immigrants by refusing to help the federal government enforce immigration laws.

Funding  is at risk “through a variety of Senate and House bills that propose funding restrictions based on our and other counties following the constitutional requirement that a criminal warrant be provided in order for us to detain individuals on behalf of the federal government,” she said.

Councilman Curtis Jones said he’s concerned the city hasn’t come up with any backup plans if these cuts become reality.

“What concerns me most is that they are talking about retroactively taking grant money from us,” said Jones. “I don’t know how we can take back expenditures that we have put out on the street.”

Philadelphia also has no backup plan should the new tax on sweetened beverages be struck down in court.  Work on libraries, recreation centers and parks — which is to be financed through that tax revenue — has been delayed until the case is resolved.  And that could endanger pre-K expansion planned for September.

Councilman Bill Greenlee said he’s concerned how to budget when money will be held in limbo, but he said the budget should not be a hard sell.

“There’s always going to be questions about budget priorities, but, without a tax increase proposal, I don’t think the budget will be super problematic,” he said.

The budget, which must be passed by the end of June, is likely to change before then.

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