Philadelphia City Council approved a preliminary budget that restores some funding back to the Cultural Fund

by Steven Weisz for The Dance Journal | photo credit Art Imagined

After much lobbying and pressure put on City Council by the Arts & Culture sector in Philadelphia, City Council in a late-night meeting on Zoom on Wednesday, June 17, 2020 has proposed the restoration of $1.35 million in funding split between the Philadelphia Cultural Fund (PCF)  and African American Museum. This new budget was moved forward by the Council without any further public comment.

The proposed 2021 fiscal year budget is still dealing with a $749 million revenue shortfall resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.  The revised municipal budget now totaling $4.9 billion is expected to receive a full vote within the week before heading to the mayor’s desk. It will still be critical for Arts & Culture groups in the city to maintain the pressure on City Council and the Mayor’s office to ensure that funds for PCF remain intact.

The budget put forth also reduces tens of millions of dollars from the Philadelphia Police Department’s budget as advocates call to defund the force in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis. During Mayor Kenney’s time in office, the Philadelphia Police Department’s budget had grown over 30% to approximately $725 million. This issue was further compounded this past May when the mayor proposed an additional increase of $19 million dollars.

It should be noted that under Darrell Clarke, Council President, who showed little support for restoring arts & culture funding in emails sent to his office, that Council’s new budget simply moved an additional $14 million from the police budget to the Managing Director’s Office allocating $12.3 million for crossing guards and $1.9 million for Council President Darrell Clarke’s new fleet of public safety enforcement officers.

Under pressure from the Black Lives Matter movement and protests in Philadelphia, it appears that a number of services have been restored or funded. These include –

  • $1.35 million in restored funding between the Cultural Fund and the African American Museum
  • $25 million earmarked for “healthcare needs, healthier food options, affordable housing, anti-poverty efforts, job training”
  • A $20 million investment in the Housing Trust Fund
  • $1.45 million for adult education.
  • $825,000 in funding for re-entry services

Under the new budget proposal, quite a number of programs within the police department will be funded or restored with an emphasis on corrective measures for policing in Philadelphia. These range from funds for body cameras, to implicit bias training and even an oversight committee.

There are still significant revenue gaps, which Mayor Kenney had hope to close by layoffs of city workers as well as proposed tax hikes. Council has offered a counter proposal with increases to the wage tax for non-city residents (now 3.5019%) and an increase in parking tax to 25%.   In addition, cuts have been made by $5 million to the Fire Department and the City’s pension debt is being reexamined to the tune of $80 million.

The restoration of $1.35 million to PCF does not necessarily mean the restoration of the Office of Arts, Culture, and Creative Economy which the Mayor had already disbanded effective June 1, 2020, even prior to the Council hearings. While the $1.35 million restorations of funds for the PCF and African American Museum is a step in the right direction it is still a harsh decrease of 70% in the budget that may leave many arts organizations with gaps in their funding.  While a step in the right direction, much work will be needed to both move this proposed budget through the Mayor’s Office for approval as well as to restore PCF to its former funding levels over time.

The Arts & Culture community in Philadelphia will need to remain vigilant in the process and beyond.

Official Press Release From City Council

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