City Council: No Budget Yet; Clarke Introduces Utility Costs Resolutions

City Budget Passage Expected Next Week

Final passage of the city’s record $6.2 billion budget will wait another week.

Council President Darrell Clarke’s office said procedural issues held up passage of the bill at the June 15th meeting, but will be brought before council next week.

A release from the Council President’s office outlined the issue as follows:

Planning Commission Recommendations: First, an amended Capital Budget and Program may not be passed until the Planning Commission makes recommendations on the Council’s capital amendments, or 30 days has passed. City Council is not bound by the recommendations, but instead is bound by the timing. In order to allow for passage of the Capital and Operating Budgets before 6/22, the Administration convened a special meeting of the Planning Commission today at 12 pm. Since we had not yet received the Planning Commission’s recommendations, it would not have been legal for Council to vote on the amended Capital Budget and Program today.

Order of Passage: Second, the Capital Budget and Program must be passed first, as the figures in the Capital Budget and Program drive the borrowing authorization (Bill 230186, which was amended today and will be passed next week) and subsequent debt service payments.

Relevant Language from the Charter

§ 2-303. The Capital Program and Capital Budget.
Prior to the passage of the annual operating budget ordinance, the Council shall adopt a capital program and a capital budget.
… The Council may delete projects from the capital program as submitted to it, but it shall not otherwise amend the capital program until it has requested through the Mayor the recommendations of the City Planning Commission. The Council shall not be bound by such recommendations and may act without them if they are not received within thirty days from the date they were requested.

Energy Costs

On behalf of Council President Darrell Clarke, Councilmember Kathrine Gilmore Richardson introduced two resolutions aimed at reducing energy costs for Philadelphia consumers.

The first resolution calls on PECO, the Philadelphia Gas Works, and the Philadelphia Water Department “to make information about residential energy use and energy costs easily accessible for property owners in the City of Philadelphia.”

Citing the high utility costs renters in Philadelphia has experienced, the resolution asks for past energy usage reports be made available to prospective renters.

According to the resolution, “access to information about past energy use will (1) equip prospective renters to make informed decisions about housing based on affordability, and (2) incentivize property owners to make improvements to the energy efficiency of their dwellings.”

The second resolution calls on the same three utility entities “to develop comprehensive plans to reduce energy costs to consumers and to improve energy efficiency.”

Mentioning several factors that impact Philadelphians, including the city’s poverty rate and median income, as well as inflation and the Consumer Price Index, the resolution asks for the following:

“In order to maintain affordability of energy costs, in 2019, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) amended the PUC’s Policy Statement on Customer Assistance Programs (CAPs) to establish the following maximum energy burden thresholds based on percentage of household income for low-income customers participating in CAPs who are in Federal Poverty Income Guideline (FPIG) tiers 51%-100% and 101%-150%: “6% for natural gas heating, 4% for electric non-heating, and 10% for electric heating”; and for customers in “FPIG tier 0%-50%, the maximum energy burden is 4% for natural gas heating, 2% for electric non-heating, and 6% for electric heating.”

Facial Coverings

Councilmember Anthony Phillps introduced a bill making the wearing of “a ski mask or balaclava in any school building, recreation center, daycare, park, City-owned building, or on any mode of public transportation, including, but not limited to, buses, trains, trolleys, and subways,” punishable by a $250 fine. If a person wears such a head covering in the commission of a crime, the fine is $2000.

In remarks delivered following the introduction of the legislation, Phillps said he has been asked several times by constituents to ban the masks.

“Today marks the beginning of the process to address this issue,” Phillips said. “Among several states (including Virginia, West Virginia, Florida, South Carolina, and Georgia, all had facial covering bans before the pandemic.”

Phillips said prior to the pandemic it was understood that is someone was earring a ski mask they were likely committing a crime, and recent police footage of shootings and robberies have been committed by those wearing such facial coverings. 

Reparations Hearings

Councilmembers Jamie Gauthier and Kendra Brooks introduced a resolution establishing the Philadelphia Reparations Task Force.

Touted as “the culmination of months of hard work between City Council, the Philadelphia chapter of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA), and the community,” the Task Force will study and develop possible reparations proposals for Black Philadelphians who are descended from Enslaved Africans.

Other areas of the country, including the states of California and New Jersey and the cities of Chicago and Detroit, have already instituted similar task forces.

Black Philadelphians experience poverty at a higher rate than their white counterparts, due to several factors, including historical inequalities and racist practices such as red-lining, lack of access to capital and the lack of generational wealth caused by these practices.

As enslaved Black Americans did not receive payment for their work, much of which was critical to the development of the nation, examinations into some form of reparations has continued to be a critical discussion nationwide.

Driscoll Introduces Two Resolutions

Councilmember Mike Driscoll introduced a pair of resolutions concerning transportation and regulatory reform, respectively.

The first, in response to the tragic fire that destroyed a section of I-95, requiring months of work to repair, call on the “Committee on Transportation and Public Utilities to hold public hearings to examine the impacts of and funding alternatives for an extension of the existing Broad Street Subway Line into the underserved Northeast along the Roosevelt Boulevard.”

Estimating the Boulevard Extension would add over 100,000 daily riders to “a public transportation system that continuously espouses the need to increase ridership,” the resolution touts the possible benefits of the extension, including reduced travel times for those without cars, improved vehicular safety by reducing the need for cars along the Roosevelt Boulevard, and environmental benefits.

Driscoll also introduced a resolution calling on various city departments to collaborate “to recommend revisions to the Code and changes to facilitate more effective enforcement of the code and to clarify the missions of various Departments and Agencies impacting businesses and workers in the City; to set a direction for future Administrations and City Council to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of all workers, residents, and businesses in the City.”

Coordination between City Council and the City Labor Department will create “Joint Task Force on Regulatory Reform,” responsible for developing recommendations for revisions to the sections of the city code involving Licenses and Inspections enforcement.

The task force will consist of 11 members, six appointed by city council and five appointed by the mayor. “Members of the Task Force shall consist of community members and stakeholders directly impacted by the City’s construction code, its enforcement, and its regulatory policies and practices. The Task Force shall appoint one of its members to serve as Chair.”

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