Preliminary Philly budget cuts $33M in police spending, implements reform

(Photo via Flickr Commons)

By Michael D’Onofrio

PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia City Council slashed $33 million from the police department budget in a proposed $4.9 billion city spending plan that earmarked funding for affordable housing and anti-poverty initiatives.

The proposed budget included no property tax increase but hiked parking and business taxes, according to officials.

After daylong negotiations between members of council behind closed doors, a council committee made last-minute changes and moved out the package of budget bills and resolutions during a hearing that began shortly after 11 p.m. on Wednesday.

The Philadelphia Police Department’s budget was reduced to $727 million from Kenney’s original proposal of $760 million. The funding decrease still made the police budget the highest spending department in the city.

The cut was beyond the flat-funding commitment Kenney and legislators agreed to last week for the police department, which would have wiped out a $19 million budget increase. The budget reduction was in response to the weeks-long city and international protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, police brutality, and racism.

Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw previously said a $19 million reduction would lead to officer layoffs. It remained unclear how many layoffs would result from the additional reduction to the department’s budget.

The committee also cut funding for the Philadelphia Fire Department by $5.8 million.

The proposed budget also restored $20 million in funding for the Housing Trust Fund, which was facing cut of more than $13 million, and $350,000 for the African American Museum.

City Council also earmarked $25 million for its 17-members to spend on reducing poverty through a series of initiatives.

The city was facing a $749 million budget gap going into Wednesday due to the economic free fall caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic. The budget included sweeping cuts to departments, more than 400 layoffs, reduced hours and programming at libraries and recreation centers, and more.

Council President Darrell Clarke, of the 5th District, said the coronavirus pandemic magnified disparities in the city, including the lack of affordable housing, healthcare, and jobs.

“We need to create a ‘New Normal’ and address these disparities head on,” Clarke said in a released statement. “I believe this budget is an important start towards doing that.”

The mayor said in a released statement that the budget prioritized core services, protected vulnerable residents, and maintained “financial flexibility” for the city.”

“In short, thanks to Council’s leadership, I believe this budget will accomplish the goal I laid out on May 1: we will keep all Philadelphians safe, healthy, and educated while maintaining core municipal services that our residents rely on daily,” Kenney said.

Members of council did not detail the amendments they approved during the hearing, which was conducted via video conference, and did not take questions afterward. Many questions remained outstanding about how the funding amendments will affect departments, programs, and layoffs.

The budget legislation would increase parking taxes (going from 22.5% to 25%) and the Wage and Net Profits Tax for non-residents. Officials also canceled a planned decrease for the Business Income and Receipts Tax.

Legislators must pass a balanced budget by July 1, the start of the next fiscal year.

The committee was expected to introduce the budget bills and resolutions during the full City Council session on Thursday in order to pass them on second reading by June 25 — the last scheduled session of the month.

While the Kenney’s previously proposed budget included cutbacks to anti-violence programs, it was unclear how the amendments made on Thursday would affect the spending on those programs.

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In addition, District Attorney Larry Kranser said last week spending reductions to his office, which were for the most part maintained, would roll back anti-violence initiatives between his office and the police department.

Police response

John McNesby, president of the police union, had no comment about the anticipated budget cuts on Thursday, said union spokesman Mike Neilon in an email on Wednesday.

But in a video message on the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 Facebook Page that day, McNesby said “morale is low” at the department and “cops’ spirits have been down.”

He called on officers to “keep your head up and do your job” while union brass work with officials on the police reforms, saying, “We want to watch out for you, watch out for your backs.”

“All the internal stuff, all the political stuff, all the reforms — everything that’s coming with us — we will work with the city, we will work with the state and that’s on us,” McNesby said. “We will take care of that.”

Michael D’Onofrio is a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where this story first appeared.