OPINION: “Why Mayor Kenney’s Budget Proposal is Trash”
By Katie Feeney
Usually, on a Wednesday night at 11:00 pm, you could find me hosting open mic at Connie’s Ric Rac in South Philadelphia. The scent of dried, spilled beer and freshly sanitized bathrooms burning my nose as soon as I swing open the red double doors, I’d swim through the cloud of smoke and undodgeable hugs, greeting everyone individually like Henry Hill walking through the kitchen into the dinner club in “Goodfellas”. Sign-ups start at 8:00 pm sharp, and most weeks I am greeted by a line of creatives, chomping furiously at the sign-up list, waiting for their chance to bare their souls on stage. All night long, I’d jump on stage to introduce the city’s burgeoning artists and seasoned veterans, and we’d sing, read poetry, dance, discuss, drink, and perform until close.
Usually on a Thursday morning, I’d be exhausted and a little hungover.
Instead, this past Thursday morning I found myself hurling up expletives as I read the news about Mayor Jim Kenney, City Managing Director Brian Abernathy, and City Council’s late night budget deal, which they struck shortly before midnight while I was sleeping – absent of gigs in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Let me tell you why the current budget proposal is a slap in the face to Philadelphia’s arts and culture sector and, furthermore, pays pittance to the need for actual police reform during the largest civil rights movement of our time, taking place right now.
Newspaper headlines and social media posts ran amok on Thursday morning in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection, reporting that in the wee hours of the night, the City Council had approved an amendment to reduce the Philadelphia Police Department budget by $33 million — a perceived victory at first glance for the thousands of citizens who have been protesting all week here in support of black lives and the movement to defund the PPD, while being needlessly tear gassed by law enforcement and beaten by white vigilante mobs as the PPD watched on.
This ruse is a clear example of our elected body legislating for a headline. In truth, the current budget erases a proposed $19 million increase that we saw across two previous budget drafts, and shifts $14 million, previously allocated to PPD for crossing guards and public safety enforcement officers, from PPD to Abernathy’s control. So the dubious $33 million placation effectively amounts to no cut to PPD.
There is also no increase; This is a small victory, of course. But this lip service, saddled with reports of unanswered phones at City Hall and unread constituent emails before these decisions are being made, tells me that the Mayor is neither listening nor hearing the concerns of the people in the streets demanding real change.
Let’s talk about the small victories that protestors and organizations like Black Lives Matter, Amistad Law Project, Reclaim Philadelphia, Philly We Rise, and more won last week. I am glad full funding was restored for The African American Museum in Philadelphia. However, the Philadelphia Cultural Fund budget still faces drastic cuts that will disproportionately hurt the city’s youth and artists who benefit from the more than $3 million in grants usually awarded annually (versus about $1 million allocated in the current budget). The Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy is eliminated completely in the current budget, meaning no more Performances in Public Spaces, less music, less art. Less hope. Is this what we want for our city? Accounting tricks instead of progress? Instead of investing less than 0.5% of funds to the arts sector?
This budget does not even begin to address the demands of protestors on the streets. We need to defund the police in the 2021 budget and instead invest in our people. Now I know that “defunding the police” is a scary thought for some folks. We are not going to wake up tomorrow to see the abolition of the police; rather this movement is creating a much needed conversation regarding how we might better appropriate government funds to the community for the community’s benefit. I’m concerned that our leaders either are not listening or just do not want to have that discussion because it is politically inconvenient.
New York City has already committed to bolder action in their budget. Philly can be a leader on this. We’ve proven we’re winners. Go Phils, Go Birds, Go Flyers, Go Sixers.
Like most of my fellow musicians and artists, the COVID-19 pandemic has cut off all of the funds I would make from the local gig economy for the foreseeable future. I’ve heard the City also underestimated the pandemic’s impact on their revenues by about $100 million. But to see the OACCE cut entirely at this time when artists are suffering astonishes me, especially in a city that touts its arts and culture, while recent reports indicate that the arts in Philadelphia generate $3.4 billion in economic activity annually. Since 2016, the OACCE has distributed $2.5 million in artists fees supporting nearly 6,000 of our city’s artists. Picturing a 2020-21 season for Philadelphia’s nonprofits, many providing vital arts experiences to youth, without full funding for the Philadelphia Cultural Fund makes me furious for our city’s youth, who have faced enough cuts already.
And for what? Another highly-funded task force whose recommendations are not followed? Another failed attempt at police reform? Now, more than ever, it’s prudent that our budget reflect a city we are truly proud of and a commitment to end repeated state violence against black people.
Mayor Kenney, I’m pleading with you to show bold leadership in your budget by defunding the PPD by $120 million and instead funding our communities and arts. I know I’m not a Philadelphia lifer like you, or the grown, unmasked men spitting “Are you Antifa?!” at anyone who doesn’t look like them at Marconi Plaza, but I’m a proud Philadelphian too. And I hope I still am when you pass our budget this week.
More about the Author: Katie Feeney is a musician, TV personality and creative professional in Philadelphia. She fronts the funk rock band You Do You, moonlights as Roberta Faceplant, and is also the host of Bright Star Buzz, a weekly TV show that shines a spotlight on the Philly Music Scene. Her views are always her own and not those of any of her employers.