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17 Mar 2024

Hanging In The Hall

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March 17, 2024 Category: Commentary, Local Posted by:

One (ambitious) Philly budget
Mayor Cherelle Parker unveiled her Fiscal Year 2025 budget, and it has a little — or a big — something for everyone.

ABOVE PHOTO: Councilmember Isaiah Thomas (l) and Council Majority Leader Katherine Gilmore Richardson (r) flank Mayor Cherelle Parker (c) as she becomes the first woman to give the Mayor’s budget address in Philadelphia’s history. Parker, the city’s 100th Mayor, unveiled her $6.29 billion plan as Council President Kenyatta Johnson (top) looks on.

By Denise Clay-Murray

You can always tell when it’s time for the mayor’s budget address here at Philadelphia City Council.

There’s a palpable buzz on the 4th floor of City Hall, as people who don’t often visit Council come to hear what the mayor’s, and by extension, the city’s priorities are for the upcoming fiscal year. U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans (D-3rd Dist.) was there, as was State Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-7th Dist.) and State Rep. Jordan Harris (D-186th Dist.), the Democratic appropriations chairs for both houses of the state legislature.

And usually, when the balcony on either side of Council chambers is filled with people, something controversial is on the agenda. For example, the last time the balconies were filled in recent memory led to advocates for a complete cease-fire in Gaza getting escorted out by the Sheriff’s Department for turning one of former Council President Darrell Clarke’s last meetings leading the body into a political version of Def Comedy Jam.

(I mean with the cursing, not the comedy.)

So, when Mayor Cherelle Parker came into the chamber on Thursday to deliver her 2025 Fiscal Year budget address and to outline her five-year plan to Council, she did so to a house filled with people excited to see what moves the city’s 100th mayor — and the first woman to hold the office — was going to make toward her goal of making Philadelphia the “cleanest, greenest city in America with equal opportunity for all”…

(By the way, I think we need to give a shout out at long last to whomever came up with that campaign slogan for Parker. I sometimes hear it in my sleep.)

The $6.29 billion plan represents an additional investment of $2 billion over the next five years toward that end. In an interview she gave after presenting the budget, Parker admitted that being on this side of the budget process took some getting used to.

She also admitted that deciding what she wanted to do first took some doing.

“There’s so many things that we wanted to do,” Parker said. “But you can’t do it all at once. So, you do have to prioritize. We’re getting Philadelphia’s house in order right now. We’re taking care of the basics that we need to address so that all of our people see their tax dollars at work in their neighborhoods.”

In a rousing speech, Parker outlined the priorities that she and her administration had been working into the wee hours of the morning to form a budget.

As it was during the 2023 mayoral campaign, much of Parker’s budget emphasized investments in public safety, workforce development, and making “Filthadelphia” a thing of the past.

In the area of public safety, there will be $600 million in new investments over the life of the five-year plan, with $33 million invested in 2025. Under Parker’s plan, hiring 400 new police officers a year, as well as increasing the number and frequency of recruiting classes.

Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel looks at his phone before Mayor Cherelle Parker’s budget address in City Council chambers on Thursday. Parker, the city’s 100th Mayor and the first woman to hold the office unveiled her $6.29 billion budget plan. Among the big investments are money to hire 400 new police officers a year.

The plan would also bring back community policing, which would require officers to walk or bike through neighborhoods as a means of providing more of a presence and serving as guardians, not warriors, Parker said. A $45 million forensics lab that would give the police the tools they need to fight modern crime is also on tap in this budget, she said.

One of the more interesting parts of the budget to me — and it was relatively small in comparison to some of the other proposals Parker put forth when it comes to public safety — was the $3.2 million in the budget for youth sports programs. As someone who took part in such programs as a child, they’re necessary to help young people avoid getting into trouble.

And they shouldn’t have to be financed by having kids dodge traffic in the name of fundraising.

“I’m a proud Oak Lane Wildcat and I know youth sports aren’t just about wins and losses. They’re about giving children hope,” Parker said. “Our kids shouldn’t have to stand in the middle of the street with their helmets held out to have the funding to do so.”

While kids in youth leagues won’t have to pass the hat anymore, which is terrific, those who provide clean needles to those addicted to drugs will have to, thanks to Parker’s decision to cut off city funds to those organizations.

While she believes that organizations like Prevention Point should do the work of needle exchange without the help of the city’s limited funds, Parker disputes the contention that taking these funds away illustrates a lack of concern for the addicted.

“My administration supports an array of public health strategies from dispensing naloxone, Narcan and Fentanyl test strips to administering care, providing access to treatment and counseling and other services,” she said. “I will not allow us to be put into a box suggesting we do not care. We care, deeply, about every person in addiction.”

Two of Parker’s proposals were particularly interesting.

Toward her mission of making the city both cleaner and greener, $246 million in new investments for such things as Big Belly trash cans and trash trucks over the next five years. More than $36 million will be invested in FY 2025, Parker said. There are also plans to hire 100 new sanitation workers, 150 cleaning ambassadors and to buy 60 new trash compactors.

District Council members will also be getting some help to get and keep their districts clean, Parker said. $18 million will be invested in a residential cleaning program that will give each district its own dedicated cleaning crew. And $11 million will be invested in a new pilot program that would bring twice-weekly trash collections to the neighborhoods that seem to have the toughest time being clean.

Another of the more interesting plans that Parker has put forth is investing $10 million to create the nation’s first City College for Municipal Employment. Under this program, a partnership between the city, CCP and the School District of Philadelphia, people interested in one of the few jobs out there that still allows you to get a pension can go to school to learn how to become city employees while earning a stipend.

(I wonder who is going to teach the “I’m cranky and not in the mood to deal with you” class. I know someone who would be perfect for it.)

Speaking of the School District of Philadelphia, the district is going to get another 1% of the city’s property taxes, going from 55% to 56%.

Over the five-years of the program, $140 million would be invested in education. Parker is also putting together a multi-year plan that would bring full-day and year-round schooling to the district. The 20-school pilot program would begin this fall.

The speech and its proposals were a hit with many in the audience.

“Mayor Parker’s budget address felt like a State of The Union address,” said Catherine Hicks, president of the Philadelphia Branch of the NAACP and publisher of the SUN. “I believe the budget she submitted is one that, if implemented, can make a significant difference on the future of how Philadelphia will look, grow and be recognized as one of the top cities going forward.”

It’s an ambitious plan. Back when I was a teacher in Southwest Philadelphia, I would see trash cans overflowing and wonder if anyone ever came and emptied them. The dedicated street cleaners for each councilmanic district and the twice-weekly trash pickup pilot program will make a difference.

And it would be nice if the Commonwealth actually did what its court demands, and fund education in a way which would indicate that it believes making sure that kids can read and write is important.

(Or at the very least, it would be nice if Gov. Josh Shapiro wasn’t trying to further complicate matters by throwing a voucher program that almost certainly won’t be usable by anyone in Philadelphia into the mix.)

Parker, who campaigned on the premise that she could navigate Harrisburg better than her 2023 mayoral opponents, believes that the city will be able to get at least most of what it needs from the state to realize her vision.

She’s 1,001% confident that the city will get the help it needs.

“Working with our two chairmen who were in the building today, [Senator Vincent] Hughes and [State Rep.] Jordan Harris, Speaker [Joanna] McClinton, along with our governor, I’m more optimistic than I’ve ever been,” she said.

But in the end, the City of Philadelphia doesn’t have a whole lot of say in what the state does in terms of cooperation.

However, folks like Hughes and Harris, the Democratic appropriations chairs for the Senate and House do have some say. And they intend to use it to help Parker realize her vision.

“Everywhere I go, in the most troubled neighborhoods, to the corporate suites, where some of the wealthiest people in this city and in this region reside, everybody is rooting for [Parker],” Hughes said. “I think there’s an excellent opportunity for partnership, collaboration, and delivering real resources and real policies. We have a governor who knows the importance of the city of Philadelphia, not just to the citizens, but to the region, the state and to the national economy. Mayor Parker knows Harrisburg. She understands the importance of effective working relationships.”

Harris was optimistic about the possibility of funding for Parker’s education agenda now that the legislature had its marching orders from the Commonwealth Court.

“Governor [Josh] Shapiro’s budget has a $1.1 billion increase in public education, about $900 million of that is going to adequacy funding, which is the process by which we will get Pennsylvania in line with the Commonwealth Court ruling,” Harris said. “So, we are currently working on the governor’s budget proposal, which includes those dollars that, you know, Philadelphia would get about $240 million of that money.”

But in the end, Council will make the final decision. Over the next few months, the body will hold hearings with the various city departments to discuss their financial requests and see where everyone’s priorities align, Council President Kenyatta Johnson said.

“Obviously, the devil will be in the details,” Johnson said. “While my colleagues and I will do a deeper dive as relates to this particular budget, we’ll also make sure that all of our priorities are aligned with what the mayor’s vision is.”

The series of hearings on the 2025 Budget begins on March 26 at 10 a.m. in City Hall’s Room 400. You can also catch the hearings on Channel 64 and on City Council’s website at:

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