Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney delivered a budget address today that projected concord between his administration and City Council, while addressing concerns that have emerged around his mayoral agenda over the past year.
In his prepared remarks, Kenney acknowledged all 17 council members and their respective accomplishments. At one point, he credited Councilwoman María Quiñones-Sánchez, with whom he clashed over the soda tax, for her efforts to highlight the struggles of the city’s immigrant communities. In the next breath, he lauded sometimes-rival Council President Darrell Clarke and others for their work on housing policy.
“Thanks to the leadership of the Council President and Councilman (Kenyatta) Johnson, the Philadelphia Land Bank recently issued two RFPs to create workforce housing,” Kenney said in his address. “Councilwoman (Jannie) Blackwell has been unwavering in her commitment to ensuring every Philadelphia family has an affordable place to live.”
The sprawling $4.4 billion spending plan is, of course, hard to concisely summarize. The administration has placed most of its emphasis on uncontroversial new outlays: combating the city’s opioid crisis and homelessness, repaving, pension reform, tax cuts, and increased fire and medic staffing – along with marquee capital projects, like a plan to cap part of I-95 in Center City.
But the plan – like Kenney’s budget address itself – also notably addresses a number of long-running issues that have been at the forefront of many council discussions. Chief among these concerns is Rebuild, a $300 million effort to rehab city-owned parks and buildings, and the related issue of diversity in city contracting and hiring.
Kenney’s timing is auspicious: Council member Cindy Bass introduced an authorizing ordinance for a bond that will underpin Rebuild today, on behalf of Clarke.
“I am confident that through this ordinance we will be able to finalize a program that is open and transparent, invests in our most underserved neighborhoods, enhances growth, promotes diversity and economic opportunity, includes long-time community members,” Kenney said, later in his address.
In addition to recent concessions on the contracting structure of Rebuild, the new budget proposes several items aimed at increasing diversity and inclusion in the city’s workforce and labor unions that benefit from city contracts. Nearly half of the budget description of the Rebuild strategic plan focuses on efforts to use the largesse to promote the growth of minority, women and disabled-owned businesses.
This effort largely revolves around a still-ambiguous “partnership” with the city’s mostly white, male building trades that would put more minorities and women into scarce union apprenticeships. The city has had little success with similar union pre-apprenticeship programs in the past.
David Gould, Kenney’s Rebuild engagement coordinator, said this plan would involve more commitments from labor groups.
“What we’re doing is negotiating a memorandum of understanding with the building trades council. That would memorialize workforce and contracting goals,” he said. “Essentially, the building trades would be supplying hard and soft skills training...to address some of the barriers people have historically faced with pre-apprenticeship programs.”
The administration has previously set a goal of 40 percent minority or women contractors on Rebuild. The budget proposes hiring a new staffer at the Office of Economic Opportunity to ensure that large development projects are meeting diversity goals and allocates $200,000 to continue an apprenticeship program within the Office of Fleet Management, which maintains city vehicles. That system is viewed as one model for moving high school-age students into a skilled trade.
Other programs in the strategic plan would target workers reentering society post-incarceration – another inclusionary plank.
The “Fair Change Hiring Program” would function as a pilot program that could possibly replace the city’s trouble PREP tax credit program. PREP gave employers up to $10,000 annually in business tax credits for hiring ex-offenders – although, historically, few businesses took advantage of the incentive. Fair Change would instead directly reimburse businesses up to $5,000 per position filled with a returning inmate pre-screened by the Office of Reintegration Services.
“The pilot is aimed at streamlining the application process and getting funds to employers much sooner,” said Kenney spokesperson Lauren Cox. ”If it proves effective, the Fair Chance Hiring Program would ultimately replace the PREP tax credit.”
The “City as Model Employer” initiative will endeavor to move 200 seasonal or temporary city employees into full-time, entry-level jobs through “bridge” positions. Targeting “disconnected” 16-29-year-olds, according to budget documents, the program would be operated by the Managing Director’s Office.
The service paid to these programs in Kenney’s budget messaging is more significant in light of the issue’s importance to council than actual spending. The building trades diversity MOU, for example, would be paid for through the management of already-budgeted Rebuild contracts. The other programs total in the millions relative to a multibillion-dollar budget.
It’s unclear how warmly council will receive the mayor’s overtures. Some council sources familiar with the administration’s Wednesday morning legislative budget briefing were noncommittal. Others continued to bemoan the lingering vagueness of the building trades MOU and the structure of Rebuild.
But few described Kenney’s budget as too daring.
“It’s a Graham cracker budget,” said one source. “Responsible, wholesome, no fireworks.”
In other council business:
-Council member Kenyatta Johnson introduced legislation to enhance penalties for vandals who topple gravestones, after an incident at a Jewish cemetery earlier in the week.
-Bass introduces legislation to examine traffic calming measures around public schools. A separate resolution calls for hearings on crossing guard shortages.
-Maria Quinones-Sanchez introduced legislation to exempt the land bank from certain real estate fees.