Analysis: City budget hearings open online, in shadow of $500M deficit

Philadelphia City Hall.
Photo credit Holli Stephens/KYW Newsradio
PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia City Council began hearings this week on Mayor Jim Kenney's budget, which was revised to address a $500 million shortfall in revenue. Council members quibbled with both the cuts and new revenue he’s proposed.

The hearings are conducted online, which can cause challenges but which has gone surprisingly smoothly for the most part. Council members take turns picking apart the mayor’s budget, each in his or her own way.

Despite the dramatically different format, they follow a well-worn formula, framing Kenney's administration as an adversary, regardless of the fact he spent 23 years in City Council, doing just what each member is doing, protecting the priorities most important to their varied constituents. 

Councilman Allan Domb passionately decried the mayor's proposal for a real estate tax increase to keep the School District solvent, and then, just as passionately, criticized a relatively small cut that would eliminate outreach about the federal earned income tax credit, a favorite program of his.

Some new members proposed borrowing money for operating costs and finance director Rob Dubow had to explain why that would end up costing more in the long run, as debt service became part of the city's fixed costs for years. Others suggested a tax amnesty, which was tried during the Great Recession and depressed revenue for years afterward.

Kenney said he is open to the members' alternative proposals, but he insists the end product must do what he says his version does: keep Philadelphians safe, healthy and educated while maintaining core services, without violating the charter mandate for a balanced budget.