Council Passes Budget; Thomas Call for Prison Oversight

Budget Passed

At its last stated meeting of the 2023 spring session, Philadelphia City Council passed the fiscal year 2024 budget. As we’ve reported, the process of passing the $6.2 billion operating budget and the $4.72 capital budget began publicly in March with Mayor Kenney’s final budget address. Following a month of analysis from council members, hearings began with various city departments. Following the hearings, behind-the-scenes negotiations began to finalize the legislation passed yesterday.

Amongst other aspects of the budget, Mayor Jim Kennedy touted investments in violence prevention.

“This year’s budget includes a historic investment – more than $233 million in anti-violence efforts, expanding prevention programs we know to be effective and bolstering our public safety programs such as Operation Pinpoint, Group Violence Intervention, recruitment for the police department and the Youth Leader Program, which will bring conflict resolution training to high school students,” Kenney said via press release. “Together we will continue to expand ongoing efforts to intervene with individuals at the very highest risk of being involved in gun violence and strengthen coordination to keep these individuals alive.”

City Council highlighted multiple categories of investments, including:

Quality of Life Improvements

  • Street Sweeping and Illegal Dumping: $9 million
  • Commercial Corridor Cleaning: $10 million
  • Cleaning Vacant Lots: $3.89 million
  • Same Day Pay: $6 million (between CLIP, Mural Arts, and PHS)

Tax Reforms

Tax Reductions: $32.7 million

  • Resident Wage Tax reduced from 3.79% to 3.75%
  • Business Income and Receipts Tax Net Income Rate reduced from 5.99% to 5.81%
    Budget Stabilization Reserve: $42 million ($107 million total in the Rainy Day Fund)

City and Workforce Recruitment and Retention

  • Staffing and Retention: $45 million (including $16 million for prisons)
  • Cameras: $1.4 million
  • Police Department: $19.6 million+$50 million Capital
  • District Attorney’s Office: $25 million
  • Defender Association of Philadelphia: $25 million

Public Transit

  • SEPTA $140.6 million (including $31 million in free transit for those near or at the poverty level)


  • Community College of Philadelphia: $51 million+$15 million in capital investments
  • School District of Philadelphia: $282 million

However, not all members were comfortable with the tax cuts passed in the new budget. Councilmember Kendra Brooks said the cuts would amount to $107 million in lost revenue over the next five years, which will eventually lead to service cuts.

“I would much rather see the money invested in city services that helps small businesses and working families thrive,” Brooks said. “Services like street and streetlight repairs, trash collections, and cleaning and greening of vacant lots.”

Regarding quality of life issues, Councilmember Gauthier likened the city’s efforts to“like putting a band-aid on a broken bone.”

Explaining voting against the final budget bill, Gauthier said the budget is a moral document, and voting for it would be sending a message to residents that city council values the bottom line of corporations and affluent residents (more than struggling Philadelphians).

“Council’s latest tax cuts save the median resident a mere $21 annually,” Gauthier said. “That means Philadelphians earning over $53,000 annually won’t even save enough for a half a tank of gas.”

Gauthier also said businesses with an income of over $1 million will receive $1800 back due to the cuts. Most neighborhood businesses earn nowhere near this amount.

Councilmember Isaiah Thomas took exception to his colleagues concerns, saying he believed it was disingenuous to give the public the perception that council had to choose between tax cuts and city services.

“Last year, we had a $700 million surplus,” Thomas said. “And for those who don’t understand economics, when you’re operating in the midst of a surplus, if you decide to offer any type of tax cuts, we’re not cutting services or (avoiding) hiring people.”

Thomas said the tax cuts were minor and meant to be gradual while occurring over a five or 10 year timeline.

Thomas Call for Prison Oversight

Councilmember Isaiah Thomas introduced legislation that would change the city charter by adding a Prison Oversight Board and an Office of Prison Oversight.

“Philadelphia has seen issues within our prisons from escaped individuals, overcrowding, understaffed guards, and problem that have likely not yet seen the light of day,” Thomas said via press release. “With the partnership of stakeholders, and valued input from formerly incarcerated Philadelphians, we are seeking to better understand these issues and fix them. Transparency and accountability must be present in all aspects of government, including the prison population.”

Part of the mandate of the oversight board will be to hire investigators and “have power to fix issues it uncovers.”

A city charter change requires both a bill and a resolution to pass through council with a two-thirds majority, and must be approved by voters via a ballot referendum.

Squilla Seeks County-Level Investments

Councilmember Mark Squilla introduced a resolution “Calling upon the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to pass legislation to enable new county-level investments that can help to advance transit and transportation projects that drive local priorities.”

The resolution makes mention of SEPTA’s status as the busiest public transportation provider in Pennsylvania, with over 600,000 daily trips, and as an economic driver for the region while being the primary mode of transportation for 200,000 Philadelphians. 

Highlighted in the resolution is the economic impact of the Philadelphia region in the commonwealth, which “generates 41% of the state’s economic activity with 32% of its population on just 5% of its land.”

Despite the clear statewide economic advantages of a mobile populace in Philadelphia, the resolution laments the fact that peer regions have invested 75% more in transit than southeastern Pennsylvania. SEPTA also faces a $5.1 billion repair backlog.

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