In the coming week, City Council will be voting on a $4.9 billion budget proposal that raises taxes, lays off workers, defunds the arts, and slashes funding for our parks and libraries. The proposal has been met with mounting opposition from the public, local press, and many of my Council colleagues.
While I understand the administration must make tough decisions in the aftermath of COVID-19, this proposal simply falls short. We can and must do better.
That’s why I’m planning to introduce a budget amendment that would restore funding for the arts, including the Philadelphia Cultural Fund and African American Museum, reduce cuts to our parks and libraries, and provide the Department of Commerce funds to assist the City’s economy recovery – all for just under $22 million dollars.
In particular, I plan to do so usingunusedmoney from the recession fund and beverage tax revenue.
As the City Controller points out in a recent report, the $50 million set aside for recession recovery can be used effectively to do just that – recover from our current financial crises created by the onset of the COVID-19 virus. My amendment pulls roughly $11 million from this fund.
In addition, I am proposing that $10 million of unused beverage tax revenue be moved from the Department of Human Services (DHS) to fund libraries and the Department of Parks and Recreation. In fiscal year 2021, the City will fund 3,300 Pre-K seats at a cost of about $28 million. In the current budget, over $40 million was sent to DHS from the Office of Children and Families, (formerly the Mayor’s Office of Education) to fund Pre-K education. Therefore, there will be more than $10 million at DHS unused and available for transfer.
The amendment will deliver the following:
Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy (OACCE):Completely restore the OACCE and the Philadelphia Cultural Fund (PCF). At a cost of a little over $4.2 million, this restores 8 jobs and fuels the economic recovery. The City’s creative arts industry is valued at $3.4 billion, generating annual tax revenue of $157 million. This also restores funding to the African American Museum and the Greater Philadelphia Film Office and a myriad of cultural activities.
Department of Parks and Recreation:Retain 29 staff and restore $8.7 million in personal costs. This will allow the restoration of a variety of summer programs for youth, including pool openings the city’s underserved neighborhoods.
Free Library of Philadelphia: Retain 28 staff and restore $6.2 million in personal costs. This allows the restoration of service hours, particularly on weekends and Sunday in the four regional and main libraries. Students in underserved communities rely on WIFI service in neighborhood libraries for research and other learning activities.
Department of Commerce:Retain 43 staff and restore $1.5 million in personal services. In addition, provide funding for the Citizens Diplomacy International. Restoring personnel available to aid in administering grant programs is essential. The department has $4 million in grants available, and numerous other grant programs have been recently created. Recovering city business, particularly those with insufficient insurance need grant and programmatic help.
The administration has also experienced savings from the COVID-19 shutdown not taken into account when calculating the $649 million budget hole. My office performed an independent analysis and found a savings of greater than $44 million – these unreported savings are a potential source of funding to save jobs and restore core services.
It’s also important to note the administration has steadily increased spending by $1 billion since 2016. Now, in the first real sign of economic downturn, the City tells us that layoffs, tax increases, and cuts to core services is the only way to meet our obligations. I disagree.
The adjustments to the Mayor’s budget proposal presented in my amendment would restore services and programs that affect education, summer programs that impact our underserved communities, fuel our City’s economic recovery, and save our cherished arts and culture industry. I urge the administration and Council to adopt my proposal– there is simply no excuse to defund vital offices and core services when there are feasible alternatives.
*David Oh is an At-Large Member of the Philadelphia City Council.