Home Retirement Philadelphia votes to pull $33 million from police budget

Philadelphia votes to pull $33 million from police budget

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Laura McCrystal

The Philadelphia Inquirer

Philadelphia City Council removed $33 million in proposed funding for the city’s Police Department Wednesday night as it took a step toward approving a budget for the next fiscal year.

Council also restored some of the money that Mayor Jim Kenney had proposed cutting from affordable housing, arts and culture, adult education, and the city’s African American Museum in a preliminary vote on a spending plan for the next fiscal year.

Kenney agreed last week to eliminate a proposed $19 million increase to the Police Department, after facing criticism amid protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Council on Wednesday removed an additional $14 million from the proposed police budget simply by shifting crossing guards and public safety enforcement officers out of the department. Those employees will now report directly to the managing director’s office.

Council approved the changes and voted for preliminary approval of a budget package late Wednesday night. A final vote on the budget is expected next week, at Council’s last meeting before the new fiscal year begins July 1.

The budget amendments included measures that would sunset hikes to the city’s parking tax and non-resident wage tax after one year, according to a Council news release. Council also reduced the size of Kenney’s proposed parking tax hike, raising it from $22.5% to 25%, rather than 27%.

“The COVID-19 pandemic and unrest in our city and country these last few weeks have magnified the disparities that were glossed over by a booming economy and years of cutting resources from our country’s social safety net,” Council President Darrell L. Clarke said in a statement. “The lack of access to affordable housing, health care, living wage jobs and healthy foods has been exposed by these crises – along with many problems.”

Kenney said in a statement that he approved of the budget deal.

“It pains me that this budget reduces some city services and eliminates hundreds of jobs,” Kenney said. “Still, we have prioritized core services, protected our most vulnerable residents, and maintained our financial flexibility to enable a quick rebound.”

Council’s actions came just three days after the Kenney administration announced that the city’s projected budget hole due to the coronavirus would be $100 million more than previously anticipated. Revenue declines have been worse than expected, officials said, leaving the city with a loss of $749 million compared to the anticipated budget for the coming year before the pandemic began.

The administration said it would make up for the additional $100 million in lost revenue by restructuring a Pension Fund bond and by using some of the city’s fund balance.

The Police Department budget, despite funding cuts, includes money for a number of reforms, according to council’s news release, including body cameras, implicit bias training, and an equity manager for the department. The city will also add a deputy inspector general for police-related investigations.

Council’s budget amendments also reduced Fire Department spending by $5 million, to the amount approved for the current fiscal year.

Kenney initially proposed a $5.2 billion spending plan in March, and revised it in May to respond to the impact of COVID-19, calling for tax hikes, layoffs, and cuts in several city departments.

Council members had also voiced concern about a proposed property-tax increase to fund the school district — which Kenney withdrew after a state budget deal offered more funding for schools — and spending cuts in other areas such as affordable housing and anti-poverty initiatives. Others criticized Kenney’s proposed elimination of the city’s Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy and grants that it has given to cultural groups in the city.

Some funding for those areas was restored in the preliminary budget vote Wednesday, including a full restoration of $350,000 for the African American Museum. The city’s contribution to the museum was eliminated in Kenney’s revised budget in May, and museum officials said they would struggle to stay open without the money.

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