To generate money for Philadelphia's struggling school district, Mayor Kenney wants to raise the property tax, increase the real estate transfer tax, and put the brakes on projected cuts to the wage tax.
City Councilwoman Cindy Bass has another idea: She hopes to make hundreds of millions of dollars of cuts to the budget over the next five years, especially to the city's prison system.
She said raising real estate taxes — which lawmakers have done several times in recent years — is "the easy go-to."
"People are feeling the pinch," said Bass. "We are requesting that instead of looking outward at everybody else's pocketbook, we look inwards at our own pocketbook."
It's an early move in Philadelphia's annual budget dance, when Council members introduce alternative ideas to the mayor's. Oftentimes, their suggestions — or pieces of them, at least — become law. The budget is due June 30.
Bass' proposal would slash about $80 million from the prison system over the next five years, and trim $150 million from other city departments during the same period.
She said her budget cuts would not lead to layoffs, and would instead reduce spending for contracts, equipment, and supplies.
Bass' plan would raise less money for the schools than Kenney's, according to her office: $670 million over the next five years, compared to his roughly $770 million.
The School District's projected budget deficit over the period is about $630 million.
Bass would keep in place some key parts of the mayor's budget proposal, including his suggestion to slow down the reductions in the wage tax. That is estimated to generate about $340 million over five years. At the same time, Bass said, she would eliminate Kenney's proposed increases to the property and real estate transfer taxes.
Councilwoman Helen Gym has recommended cutting the city's 10-year tax abatement roughly in half.
Councilman David Oh said he is also planning to introduce his own plan, which would cut between $110 million and $171 million in the coming year. It takes an ax to proposed spending increases that the Kenney administration has not explained, he said.
Councilman Allan Domb, meanwhile, is calling for a reduction of 15 percent in the city's prisons budget. The prison population has fallen dramatically in recent years, but costs have not dropped at the same rate.
"If you cut your population by 35 percent, and we're going to close a prison, then you should be able to cut the prison budget by 15 percent," said Domb. "Three years ago, we were spending about $44,000 per year per prisoner. Today, it's $66,000."
It is unclear how much support these alternative plans will generate on City Council. Asked how many legislators will co-sponsor her bill, Bass said, "Council doesn't want to have to raise taxes on our constituents. So any innovative funding packages that avoid tax increases, I expect, will be welcomed."
Mike Dunn, a spokesman for Kenney, said the administration had not yet seen Bass' proposal and so could not comment on the specifics.
"From the day the mayor introduced his budget proposal last March, he made clear his willingness to work with City Council," said Dunn. "We have, in fact, been engaged in detailed discussions on a whole host of ideas from several Council members over the past few weeks."
Last week, Council members slightly changed — and gave preliminary approval to — Kenney's recommendations to raise the real estate transfer tax and boost the homestead exemption. They also passed out of committee his proposal to slow down planned reductions to the city's wage tax.