Philadelphia Mayor Parker talks budget and public safety in Harrisburg

As the Pennsylvania General Assembly negotiates its next fiscal budget, Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker appeared in Harrisburg on Monday to highlight her administration’s priorities while pressing the state Legislature to invest in the state’s largest city.

Parker, a former English teacher and state legislator, said she is “unapologetic” about her support for public education. She said she has worked with Democrats and Republicans to augment funding for the Philadelphia School District.

“Over the life of our five-year plan, we increased that amount to $129 million. I’m happy about it,” Parker said during a luncheon at the Pennsylvania Press Club. “But we need the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and our General Assembly to act.”

Parker’s specific request to the Legislature is $242 million this year and $1.4 billion over the next seven years to ensure funding adequacy.

“The students of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia deserve this. We have improved our local offerings and Philadelphia has already done so. We need the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to act,” Parker said.

As the state budget deadline approaches, the issue public education financing and charter schools returned to the forefront of discussion in the state legislature.

Parker said her city schools proposal has the support of Philadelphia City Council Speaker Kenyatta Johnson, time-honored public school advocates, charter school advocates and the city superintendent of schools.

“We’re not going to let anyone compete with us,” Parker said. “There are no divisions in Philadelphia that can be exploited.”

June 14 Parker signed her first budget since taking the oath of office earlier this year. She said the $6.37 billion “One Philly” budget includes $2 billion in up-to-date investments, $800 million in operations and $1.2 billion in capital improvements over the five-year plan.

“Philadelphia’s fiscal sustainability through our budget has been successfully established, but we also have a solid fiscal footing,” Parker said. She noted that the city recently received approx credit rating upgrade to A+ from Fitch.

She said her budget kept her campaign promise not to include any up-to-date taxes on Philadelphia residents.

Parker, who represented the 200th District in the House of Representatives from 2005 to 2015, credits her tenure in the Legislature with preparing her for her current role.

“I want you to know that as I was driving here and we were approaching the highway, it really felt like a homecoming,” Parker said. “Much of the work that I have been able to do in Philadelphia as a council member and now as mayor began during my term as a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.”

During the question-and-answer portion of the show, Parker was asked about taking a “seriously neutral stance on expanding school choice” for students in low-performing schools and what’s keeping her from taking a stance on that debate. Based on her previous experience leading the House delegation in Philadelphia, she said it was essential that lawmakers were not “handcuffed” during budget negotiations.

Parker said education is a broad issue and referred to the Commonwealth Court’s decision finding the state’s school funding formula unconstitutional. Her position seems to be different from hers predecessor Jim Kenneywho he wasn’t seen as an ally of charter schools.

“But for us to take a stand for or against something that is as important to you as what you describe does not help us or our Philadelphia delegation,” Parker said.

During the Q&A, Parker was also asked about Gov. Josh Shapiro’s transportation funding plan.

“Southeastern Pennsylvania will not thrive without investment in mass transit,” Parker said, explaining that about 40% of the state’s revenue comes from Philadelphia and surrounding suburban counties that exploit SEPTA.

Shapiro’s budget proposal includes An augment of $283 million in statewide transit financing.

Parker said that while she is not involved in budget deliberations, she believes increasing funding for SEPTA is a “no-brainer” and added that increasing mass transit statewide will lend a hand all communities across the commonwealth.

She also said that, as with public education, her budget includes increasing the local share of public transportation funding.

“We just increased our budget by $117 million, so if anyone says Philadelphia isn’t paying its fair share, I want them to give me the exact numbers,” Parker said, referring to the augment in mass transit funding.

Parker also touched on the issue of public safety in Philadelphia.

“You can’t mention Philadelphia without someone mentioning public safety,” Parker said. “That is the main problem.”

She said the city’s comprehensive safety plan has already produced some positive results, pointing to data from Center for American Progress which showed that the city saw a decline in violent crimes and homicides in the first four months of the year.

“This mayor will not rest until the people who live, work and play, and our stakeholders in Philadelphia, feel safe in Philadelphia,” she said.

At the beginning of her speech, Parker asked for a moment of silence to honor the memory of a Philadelphia police officer who was shot in the line of duty Saturday and is in critical condition. Officials organized a press conference on Monday to provide an update the policeman’s health condition and publish a schedule of events.

Pennsylvania Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) will be the keynote speaker next term Dinner at the Pennsylvania Press Club in July.

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