As budget season begins, Clarke says it could be ‘most challenging’ in recent memory

City Council President Darrell Clarke After a Philadelphia father this week was charged with shooting and killing his 4-year-old daughter, City Council President Darrell Clarke wants to make it a crime to leave a firearm within the reach of a child. C.F. Sanchez / Staff Photographer

City Council began its budget season Tuesday under the uncertainty of proposed cuts from Harrisburg and Washington, a threat likely to color discussions as the group works to pass a budget by the end of June.

“You try not to let it bother you, but behind your thinking on this budget process is the fact that there could potentially be a significant loss of revenue,” Council President Darrell L. Clarke said after a hearing on the city’s five-year plan. “I think it could be the most challenging budget process in recent history, if in fact some of these proposals get enacted on the state and federal level.”

Council is weighing a $4.4 billion spending plan for the fiscal year starting July 1.

In one bright spot, Mayor Kenney has not proposed any tax increases. That resulted in what Clarke described as a “kinder, gentler opening salvo” between Council and the administration Tuesday than in years when tax hikes have been on the table.

Kenney's chief of staff, Jane Slusser, testifying before Council, said that rather than launch any major new initiatives in the coming fiscal year, the administration will continue to roll out the “big transformational” programs approved in last year’s budget. That includes an expansion of prekindergarten, to be paid for by the newly enacted tax on sweetened beverages.

Meanwhile, she said, the city will continue to focus on “basic simple city services.”

“If there’s holes in the street, every Council member here is going to hear about it,” she said. “Or if trash collection is not on time, you hear about that.”

She and other administration officials present Tuesday acknowledged, though, that many of the city’s plans could be thrown into turmoil if potential losses of state and federal revenue come to fruition.

On day one of what will be seven weeks of hearings, Council members received one stark example. Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown asked Commerce Director Harold Epps how much of his department’s budget comes from federal grants.

His answer: 50 percent.

The councilwoman sat quiet for a moment.

“I’m a bit stunned,” Reynolds Brown said.

“It’s going to be a long budget season,” Clarke told her.