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Convening on Zoom late Wednesday evening, Philadelphia City Council approved a preliminary budget that includes cancelling the $19 million budget increase for the police department and diverting $14 million to the mayor’s cabinet.

The proposed 2021 fiscal year plan comes amid a $749 million revenue shortfall caused by the coronavirus pandemic — $100 million worse than Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration had initially projected. The revised municipal budget package, now totaling $4.9 billion, is expected to receive a full vote within the week before heading to the mayor’s desk.

Council moved the budget forward in the yawning hours of Wednesday night with no public comment.

The tentative agreement shaves tens of millions off the Philadelphia Police Department’s budget at a time when advocates are calling to defund the force in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis, Breonna Taylor’s killing in Louisville, and other police violence nationwide.

Advertised as a $33 million reduction in funding, the change is not a cut-and-dry loss for the police.

Under Kenney’s watch, the PPD’s budget has ballooned 30% to more than $725 million. In early May, while grappling with the pandemic’s unprecedented economic toll, the mayor proposed well over a $19 million increase over last year in the name of public safety. He rescinded most of that proposed boost last week amid heavy backlash.

Council’s preliminary budget simply moved an additional $14 million from the police budget to the Managing Director’s Office: $12.3 million for crossing guards and $1.9 million for Council President Darrell Clarke’s new fleet of public safety enforcement officers, according to budget documents.

Council also earmarked funding for certain police programs that had uncertain futures under earlier budget drafts. The revised proposal preserves:

  • Money to outfit police with more body cameras
  • “Implicit bias training” for the police force
  • Funding for mental health services
  • Police-assisted diversion programs, which originally saw pinched funding
  • Hiring an “equity manager” for the police force
  • An additional $1.2 million for the public defender’s office
  • $400,000 for the Police Oversight Commission — a newly proposed successor to the PPD’s long standing civilian oversight board, the Police Advisory Commission.

Councilmembers could not be reached for comment late Wednesday.

To account for the persisting revenue gaps, Kenney’s revised budget rests on a mix of layoffs and tax hikes. Council moved to sunset the proposed increases to the wage tax for non-city residents (now 3.5019%) and the parking tax (an increase of 22.5% to 25%, down from the mayor’s proposed 27%) after one year.

In a statement, Kenney immediately praised Council for the tentative late-night agreement. He also lamented the overall loss of city revenue — which had grown $1 billion since he took office in 2015 — as well as the elimination of hundreds of municipal jobs.

“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,” the mayor’s statement reads.

The preliminary budget also strikes a $5 million increase to the Philadelphia Fire Department’s budget, which will keep its funding at current levels. Finance officials also claim a restructuring of the city’s overburdened pension debt will yield another $80 million in savings over the coming fiscal year.

Among other proposed changes Council agreed upon:

  • $25 million earmarked for “healthcare needs, healthier food options, affordable housing, anti-poverty efforts, job training”
  • A $20 million investment in the Housing Trust Fund, which originally saw a multi-million dollar cut under Kenney’s early projections
  • $1.45 million for adult education.
  • $1.35 million in restored funding between the Cultural Fund and African American Museum
  • $825,000 in funding for re-entry services

Max Marin (he/him) was Billy Penn's investigative reporter from 2018 to 2021. A graduate of Temple University, he has produced award-winning journalism on local politics, criminal justice, immigration...