By Michael D’Onofrio
PHILADELPHIA — Mayor Jim Kenney proposed a $5.2 billion spending plan without a tax hike as he laid out his priorities on Thursday.
During his fifth budget address, the Democratic mayor, who’s embarking on his second term, listed reducing the city’s 24.5% poverty rate as among his top goals, as well as making investments in education, reforming the police department, and reducing homicides by 30% and shootings by 25% over the course of his next term.
“Our administration’s anti-poverty strategy focuses on providing support to those in need now, helping Philadelphians raise their incomes, and investing in policies and programs that will break the cycle of intergenerational poverty for good,” the mayor said.
Under Kenney’s proposal, overall spending would increase 4.2% without the need for tax increases and the city would shell out $210.7 million more than the current budget on the back of rising revenues.
City Council President Darrell Clarke said he was “very excited” about Kenney’s investments in anti-poverty measures — some of which were proposed by City Council this week — and approved of the mayor’s five-year plan.
Clarke added “there will probably be some tweaks” to the mayor’s spending plan during the upcoming budget negotiations, but declined to elaborate.
Before the mayor’s address, City Council sent a rebuke to Kenney by voting 15-2 for a resolution condemning Safehouse for its lack of transparency and community participation regarding its failed bid to open a supervised injection site in South Philadelphia last week.
Kenney supports those facilities, also known as overdose prevention sites (OPS).
The resolution called on Kenney and Safehouse, the latter of which is an independent nonprofit, to stop seeking other locations to open a supervised injection site until the community could weigh in.
Kenney doubled down on his support for supervised injection sites during his address and touched on the inequitable response to the opioid epidemic — perceived as affecting mostly whites — compared to the crack crisis, which primarily impacted people of color.
“We will continue to work with advocates to support opening overdose prevention sites to save lives and help connect people to treatment,” the mayor said.
“I also think we can agree that as a society we failed an entire generation during the crack epidemic and failed War on Drugs because of bad policy.”
Advocates both for and against supervised injection sites turned out for the address, filling the upper level of the chambers.
During his address, Kenney touched on the accomplishments of his first term, including returning control of the School District to local control, and passing his sweetened beverage tax which pays for the city’s pre-kindergarten program, Community Schools, and the Rebuild program that funds investments in public spaces.
The mayor’s proposal
As part of the administration’s anti-poverty program, the mayor proposed investing $6.6 million this year for the city’s rental assistance program, of which approximately $3 million will go toward a new program to provide “basic income” to qualifying low-income residents.
Kenney barely mentioned the basic income program, saying only that the city will test a “cash transfer pilot program.” The program, which would directly pay qualifying low-income residents, is expected to begin in July.
Clarke said the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey will spearhead the basic income program, which will require public investment, and would provide cash payments to individuals who fall within the federal poverty range and potentially those leaving correctional facilities.
“If you want them to be productive citizens, you have to give them a starting point,” Clarke said.
Kenney said a “top concern” for the police department and residents were reforms to the arbitration and disciplinary process for officers accused of misconduct. The administration is currently negotiating with the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5 (FOP), whose contract ends in June.
The mayor also linked the city’s progress with the police department’s, saying Commissioner Danielle Outlaw was leading the efforts to transform police-community relations, make internal reforms, and reduce “senseless violence.”
“We’ll work hard with the FOP to protect the rights of our officers while also strengthening Commissioner Outlaw’s ability to hold bad cops accountable,” Kenney said. “We know this is a top concern for the department and residents.”
Kenney’s proposal provides $5.7 million in new funding to the police department for hiring staff, upgrading technology, and expanding the anti-gun violence program Operation Pinpoint, the latter of which will expand to three more police districts.
Gun violence measures
The spending plan would earmark $8 million in new funding for anti-gun violence initiatives, which will go toward a crisis intervention program, putting in place a rapid response team and transitional jobs program, and launching the law enforcement strategy Group Violence Intervention (GVI), also known as “focused deterrence.”
The mayor said GVI will involve outreach to the small and active number of people involved in “street groups,” and couple incentives, like training and employment, with swift penalties.
“Since most of our crimes stem from poverty and lack of opportunity,” Kenney said, “we will provide job training and jobs to residents who are at the highest risk of being involved in violence”
New funding for the School District of Philadelphia accounts for the largest increase in the budget at $45 million. The district will receive a total of $267 million. Kenney touched on the environmental hazards plaguing the district, which include lead and asbestos.
Under the plan, Kenney also would boost funding for the Community College of Philadelphia (CCP).
The proposal dedicates $10 million to fund the Octavius Catto Scholarship, a so-called “last-dollar” program that will cover the remaining costs of tuition for some students after scholarships, and federal and state grants are applied, and provide them with money for food, transportation and other expenses.
An estimated 6,500 qualifying students are expected to participate in the program during the next five years.
“We have a simple but vital goal: To significantly increase the graduation rates for full-time CCP students,” Kenney said.
As for the proposed capital budget, Kenney’s top focus is creating safer and cleaner streets, which would receive $52.1 million this year.
Other notable funding proposals included $10 million to expand the city’s street sweeping program to more neighborhoods this year and $67 million over six years.
Kenney’s spending plan would contribute $36.5 million to the city’s rainy-day fund, $56.7 million to a recession fund, and $40 million in anticipation for increases in spending for the city’s expiring labor contracts this year.
The city’s unfunded pension liabilities amount to $6.1 billion and the pension fund is 46.8% solvent.
The Department of Human Services would get a boost of $600,000 to pay for wage increases for the city’s youth summer jobs program.
The proposal earmarks $1 million to combat the city’s opioid epidemic and increasing funding for the Department of Public Health by $2.3 million to expand prevention efforts and address quality of life concerns in the Kensington neighborhood, the epicenter of the crisis.
The Free Library of Philadelphia can expect more funding to not only pay for more staffing but year-round six-day service.
A street sweeping pilot program was in place in six neighborhoods last year. The expansion will be required to move during sweeping in some neighborhoods, Kenney said.
Over the next six years, Kenney wants to inject $240 million to repave city streets and invest $9 million into his administration’s Vision Zero, which aims to reduce traffic-related deaths to zero by 2030, and create 40 miles of protected bike lanes by 2025.
Members of City Council will hold budget negotiations over the coming months. A budget must be passed by June 30.
Michael D’Onofrio is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.