By Michael D’Onofrio
PHILADELPHIA — The city’s top legislator says he expects Mayor Jim Kenney’s upcoming proposed budget will include new investments to reduce poverty and combat gun violence as he said City Council had no interest in raising property taxes.
City Council President Darrell Clarke said those investments “will be addressed” in Kenney’s budget, but provided no specifics. “The degree of the investment — I’m not sure,” he said.
Clarke shied away from setting minimum investment levels he would like to see from Kenney as homicides and shootings surge and poverty remains stubbornly high in the city. The Council president said those investments will be hashed out during the weeks of legislative hearings following the mayor’s budget address Thursday.
The council president said he did not back raising property taxes to increase funding for those measures as the city’s economy recovers from the coronavirus pandemic. He also signaled that cutting the police department’s budget wasn’t an option at this point.
“That’s a no from me,” Clarke said when asked about raising property taxes, adding: “The whole thing is, there’s going to be a finite level of dollars. It will not come from the local economy because we are not back yet.”
Ahead of the mayor’s budget address, Clarke and several other members of Council outlined their own agenda for reducing violence and promoting jobs inside the North Philadelphia nonprofit New Options More Opportunities.
The legislators’ so-called Violence Prevention and Opportunity Agenda is a rehash of many past proposals and ongoing city programs, such as supporting job training programs; calling on Kenney to declare a citywide emergency over gun violence; funding community organizations; and holding gun buybacks.
Among the few proposals being considered are “curfew centers,” which would act as community engagement hubs where at-risk youth can access social services and interact with law enforcement.
Councilmember Cherelle Parker said the agenda would help expand the city’s options for addressing gun violence
“Make no mistake about it: Gun violence is Philadelphia’s public enemy No. 1,” said the District 9 Democrat.
With Philadelphia’s homicide rate reaching historic levels, Clarke sidestepped directly answering questions about whether he has confidence in Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw. “Ultimately, she has to respond to the mayor,” he said.
Clarke also seemed uncertain about how Outlaw would respond to any potential civil unrest following the verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin — the Minneapolis police officer accused of murdering George Floyd.
“People are cognizant of the fact that we were not prepared last time and they (Kenney administration officials) indicate that they will be prepared this time,” Clarke said.
Asked if he believed Outlaw would respond differently than last year, Clarke said: “I hope.”
Outlaw, who took over the troubled department in February 2020, has been widely criticized for not adequately preparing for the protests and civil unrest that erupted here after Floyd’s killing last year. Her department also responded with heavy-handed police tactics against protesters.
At 140 murders as of Tuesday in Philadelphia, the homicide rate is 35 percent higher than the same time last year. The city had 499 murders last year and logged the highest year-over-year increase in murders since at least 1960.
Shooting victims numbered 546 as of Sunday, up 34.8% compared to the same time last year, according to the Philadelphia Shooting Victims Dashboard.
African-American Philadelphians account for the overwhelming majority of homicide and shooting victims.
The Kenney administration is expected to provide an update to its 2-year-old anti-violence plan Wednesday.
Michael D’Onofrio is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.