In response to civil unrest and calls for police reform, Philadelphia City Council is poised to approve a budget for the coming fiscal year that removes $33 million in proposed funding for the Police Department.
But $14 million of the funding would simply be diverted into a different part of the city budget, by moving crossing guards and public safety enforcement officers out of the Police Department. The remaining cut eliminates Mayor Jim Kenney’s proposed $19 million increase to the police budget; Kenney agreed to make that change last week amid protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
In a vote late Wednesday, Council also moved to restore some of the money that Kenney had proposed cutting from affordable housing, arts and culture, adult education, and the African American Museum.
A final budget vote is expected next week, at Council’s last meeting before the new fiscal year begins July 1.
Council members and Kenney agreed to the budget deal, which also includes tax hikes, layoffs of more than 450 city employees, and reductions to city services — all to fill an estimated $749 million budget hole created by the coronavirus pandemic.
But debates over funding and reforms for police will continue, as protesters call for defunding the police in Philadelphia and other cities.
The changes reduce the police budget by about 4.3%, allocating $727 million instead of the $760 million Kenney proposed last month.
Budget officials said Thursday they were still working out the impact for the department, but would likely include cuts to police overtime and a reduction of officers through attrition.
Councilmember Kendra Brooks, who took office in January after running on a progressive platform as a member of the Working Families Party, said the budget “retains many of its initial problems.”
“As an activist, I know change does not always come from above,” Brooks said in a tweet. “Our movement does not, and cannot, end here.”
Councilmember Jamie Gauthier, another new and progressive member of Council, said the restoration of funding for affordable housing is a “huge win” and called the cut to the police budget “a good start.”
“There’s much more work to be done,” Gauthier tweeted.
The leader of the city’s police union, meanwhile, criticized the budget changes as “reckless and irresponsible.”
“Our political leadership is tone deaf and blind to the realities of public safety in our city by implementing these drastic budget cuts,” Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 president John McNesby said in a statement.
Kenney, for his part, said Thursday that he will work toward more changes in policing, such as having trained social workers or other officials respond to some situations that have been typically handled by police.
“We’re moving in that direction as a city and as a country, in trying to get items that were traditionally 911 calls out of the hands of police, because it’s really not their training or responsibility to deal with people that are experiencing addition or mental health issues or homelessness,” he said during a virtual news conference.
The Police Department budget still includes money for a number of reforms, including body cameras, implicit bias training, and an equity manager for the department, according to council’s news release.
The city will also add a deputy inspector general for police-related investigations, and $400,000 for a police oversight body, something that voters are likely to be asked to consider on November’s ballot. While the structure of that commission has not yet been determined, the $400,000 — in addition to the current Police Advisory Commission budget of $550,000 — accounts for one-tenth of 1% of the police budget. In Chicago and New York, police oversight bodies have annual budgets of several million dollars.
The budget amendments approved Wednesday also include measures that would sunset hikes to the city’s parking tax and nonresident wage tax after one year. Council also reduced the size of Kenney’s proposed parking-tax hike, raising it from $22.5% to 25%, rather than 27%.
Council earmarked $25 million to address economic and racial disparities with funding for health care, affordable housing, anti-poverty initiatives.
“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.”
The budget deal also reduced Fire Department spending by $5 million, to the amount approved for the current fiscal year, which officials said would be covered by reductions in overtime spending.
Budget cuts in other departments will result in layoffs for 454 employees, city officials said Thursday, of which 108 are full-time, 87 are part-time, and 322 are temporaryloyees.
Council’s preliminary vote came three days after the Kenney administration announced the city’s budget hole due to the coronavirus would be $100 million deeper than previously anticipated. Revenue declines have been worse than expected, officials said, leaving the city $749 million short of its projections before the pandemic began.
The administration said it would make up for lost revenue by restructuring a Pension Fund bond and by using some of the city’s fund balance.
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 cuts to city services and programs, including proposed elimination of the Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy.
Some funding for the arts 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.