The Mayor’s unscripted remarks which followed his budget address to the Philadelphia City Council could be summed up in four words: This Too Shall Pass.
It was an optimistic budget presented by Mayor Jim Kenney – no new taxes proposed, and monies allocated for job creation and mitigating homelessness which excited Philadelphia City Council President Darrell Clarke. A local news reporter characterized it as “a budget designed simply to fight poverty” – but uncertainty was surely the theme of the day.
On Thursday, Mr. Kenney was among the city officials who voiced concern about the potential that funding, both from the state and the federal government, could cease to exist. Chair of the Budget Committee, Mr. Clarke told of his anxiety to the news media following the address and noted that while he’s concerned about the threat from President Donald J. Trump to withhold federal funding to sanctuary cities, of which Philadelphia is one, causing greater worry is a proposal in Harrisburg, which the Pennsylvania Senate in February approved, that could subtract more than $600 million from the City’s bottom line.
Mr. Clarke called the legislation “extremely problematic” and said he and his colleagues are paying “significant attention” to it as that threat to the City is more immediate and that its passage would be easier.
“We don’t know what’s coming out of Washington or Harrisburg… everyday it’s something different and it’s not good,” said the Mayor.
Mr. Sozi Tulante is the City Solicitor and it would be his agency – which is essentially the law department – that would defend the City of Philadelphia as it resists the threats of economic sanctions tied to its sanctuary city status. Echoing his peers, Mr. Tulante emphasized that there’s “no Plan B” and the government doesn’t know what will happen, but there is, he disclosed, a working group that meets every week to assess the risks.
Though Philadelphia receives roughly $550 million from the federal government, Mr. Tulante believes the total amount won’t evaporate, rather only the amount allocated for law enforcement.
“In order to remove spending, it has to be tied to the policy at issue,” he said, implying that dollars for education and housing, for example, are safe.
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross was unsure exactly what amount his department receives in federal funding.
Visibility emotional, with his voice shaking subtly, Mr. Kenney admitted to a crowded City Council chamber that he hasn’t felt such instability since age 10, when the country was at the height of the Vietnam War, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Senator Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated, a contentious presidential election was underway, mass protests were seen, and neighborhoods were being torn apart. People then were angry and afraid, and at each other’s throats; that portrait, the Mayor said, has appeared once more.
Yet, for all the melancholy in the room, Mr. Kenney pushed passed it and ended on a note of optimism. All Philadelphians are under attacks, he said, which requires the City standing together and fighting back.
“We got through 1968 as a nation, as a state, as a city, and we can get through anything if we have each other’s back, stick together, show love and affection, care for each other, and march forward in the future, together.”
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Photo courtesy of the author.