by Pat Loeb
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney presented his second budget to the City Council on Thursday.
Kenney proposed a $4.4 billion budget for the coming fiscal year that includes new hires and equipment for the fire department, expanded services for the homeless and the child welfare system, additional money for lead abatement and opioid abuse prevention, creating more opportunities for ex-felons, along with investments in street repairs, SEPTA and a cap over I-95 to connect Old City to the Delaware River.
“We ask you to lift up our most vulnerable by increasing resources that will improve their health and well-being,” he said in his address to City Council, “and we ask you to support job-creating initiatives that will increase economic opportunities for all our residents.”
Council members gave the address high marks and predicted it would pass with few changes.
“This budget proposal reflects many of the stated concerns of City Council and the people we represent,” said Council President Darrell Clarke. “We may do some tweaks along the way but it’s a budget the we’re comfortable with.”
Republican Brian O’Neill, council minority leader, also praised the package.
“I think his budget will pass without much difficulty,” he said.
The spending plan is slightly larger than last year’s but finance director Rob Dubow says the increased dollars come from “natural growth in the tax revenue.” There are no new taxes and a decrease in the wage tax for residents and non-residents continues, bringing it to its lowest level since 1971, according to budget director Anna Adams.
The budget does project $91 million in revenue from the controversial beverage tax that council passed as part of last year’s budget but Dubow says it will be held in reserve until a court challenge to the tax is resolved. A hearing is scheduled in Commonwealth Court next month.
The administration hopes to use the money to expand pre-K seats, community schools and pay the debt service on bonds for Rebuild, a major renovation project for city facilities.
The administration did introduce legislation, today, to create a structure for executing the Rebuild program.
“City Council’s courageous vote took our city’s fight against poverty to a whole new level,” Kenney said. “To date, the Philly beverage tax has funded 2,000 free, quality pre-K seats and nine community schools serving 4,500 students.
Before he spoke, about 30 protesters from the “Ax the Tax” coalition marched outside with signs asking cars to honk to show opposition to the tax, prompting occasional horn blasts. They complained the tax is costing jobs.
As if in response, the mayor went off-script to talk about a father named Eric Brand, who recently moved from primary caregiver for his three children to a job outside the home because he was able to find child care for his youngest daughter through the pre-K expansion.
“This effort has freed up families to go out and continue to work and to earn more money,” the mayor said. “And that’s a wonderful thing.”
The mayor also addressed uncertainties in the face of possible budget cuts at the federal and state level and the threat of punitive legislation aimed at so-called sanctuary cities, of which Philadelphia is one, that withhold certain information about illegal immigrants from federal authorities.
“All of us who love this city and the strength of racial diversity, ethnic diversity, gender diversity, LGBT folks, all of us together are under attack and we need to stand up together,” he said, drawing sustained applause.
President Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers in Harrisburg have vowed to restrict federal funding from sanctuary cities. It appears there is not a plan yet in place if that funding does not arrive.
“I don’t know. They haven’t identified areas that they would talk about defunding, so when we have specifics we’ll react,” said Kenney.
Councilman Curtis Jones called the address “inspirational.”
“I think he did a really good job of putting our fiscal condition in perspective but he also took higher ground of where morally, as a community, we should be,” said Jones.
Among the items in the mayor’s budget:
For Health and Social Services:
— $1.25 million for supportive housing for those with chronic medical or behavioral health conditions including addiction and rapid rehousing for families that become homeless.
— An increase in per diem payments to foster families.
— An additional ten lawyers in the child welfare system to help bring more cases to closure.
— $1.9 million to address the opioid epidemic through education, faster treatment, naloxone for overdoses and an effort to reduce over prescription of pain killers by doctors.
— Additional funds to address lead poisoning.
— Tighter enforcement of laws against selling tobacco to minors.
— 20 new health inspectors so that Philadelphia restaurants can be inspected once a year instead of the current rate of once every 15-plus months.
For Public Safety:
— 30 new paramedics and 30 new firefighters plus four more training officers.
— $12.1 million in the capital budget to purchase new fire department vehicles.
— $500,000 for the Department of Licenses and Inspections for additional demolitions and contract to improve quality control.
For Economic Improvements:
— $174 million for street resurfacing.
— Reimbursements for businesses that hire returning offenders.
— A new workforce development system within city government.
— An Out-of-School Time program for students.
— Continued reductions in the Business Income and Receipts Tax and the Wage and Earnings tax to bring rates for residents under 3.7 percent and for non-residents under 3.3 percent by Fiscal Year 2022.
The long-term budget plan also calls for pension reform, in order to insure that it is 80 percent funded by 2030.
CBS 3’s Greg Argos contributed to the report.