Pittsburgh is still a few months away from knowing what exactly a Donald Trump presidency will mean for the city, but Mayor Bill Peduto already seems to be bracing for potential battles with the new administration.
“Despite what happens in Washington, we’ve been through tough situations where we’ve been able to prosper, where we’ve been able to see this city move forward,” Peduto said at his annual budget address on Monday.
As a spot of a blue in an otherwise red state, Pittsburgh as a city is dedicated to supporting and funding its most vulnerable citizens, including kids from low-income neighborhoods and seniors, regardless of what happens in the nation’s capital, the mayor said.
While Peduto did not mention the President-elect by name in his budget address, his tone suggested that Pittsburgh may need to prepare for icy relations with the White House, a freezing over of a connection that has helped Pittsburgh gain international attention during President Obama’s tenure.
Just last month, Peduto, the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University welcomed Obama and his administration for the first Frontiers conference, a gathering that highlighted the country’s innovations in computer science, medicine and space exploration. Peduto was also a common figure alongside Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at her local campaign stops until early November.
But on Monday, Peduto issued a battle-ready address to City Council, saying that Pittsburgh would have to band together and should not expect federal help in completing the projects outlined in his $539.3 million budget for 2017. The tentative budget plan will be made possible without tax increases thanks to the pledged revenue from Rivers Casino.
The next four years could prove tough for Pittsburgh, Peduto said. “We may have to go it alone.”
“There’s been a lot of discussion this past week over last week’s election and if anything, as Pittsburghers, we know one thing: When we pull together as one, we can accomplish anything,” Peduto said.
In the text of his 385-page budget, Peduto named two Obama initiatives that he planned to continue in Pittsburgh — the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, a program that outlines a pathway for boys and young men of color to receive quality education and to enter the workforce, and the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, which aims to reform police departments. In Pittsburgh, that reform means officers must complete training in procedural justice and implicit bias.
The agency that oversees the My Brother’s Keeper initiative will receive $1.08 million next year, and $98.4 million will go to the police bureau.
In his brief address to City Council, Peduto pushed a budget that was both practical and liberal, highlighting funding for infrastructure projects, the police force and low-income citizens and neighborhoods. Next year’s budget also puts the city on track to continue to reduce its debt service and shake its status as an Act 47 recovery city in the coming years.
The budget allocates more than $87 million to paying off debt, about 16 percent of the total expenses for next year. Peduto said in his address that this puts the city on track to only spend 9.7 percent of total expenses on debt by 2021.
“With this budget, the light is on the horizon. The continued patience and hard work of city residents and workers is paying off, and Pittsburgh remains on a responsible path that looks to take us out of fiscal oversight in two years,” Peduto said.
Peduto also said the city would spend more than $15 million on street resurfacing projects next year and would put $12.4 million toward maintaining public parks, playgrounds, swimming pools and recreation and senior centers around the city. Specifically, the budget allocates $100,000 for accessible playground equipment.
Peduto is redirecting about $3 million more to the Pittsburgh Police Bureau, an increase that includes a heavy investment into technology and services to make police data and records more accessible to citizens. According to the budget, Peduto wants the bureau to increase and standardize data collection for the National Incident-Based Reporting System, to build a more user-friendly website and to increase real-time data sharing among officers by equipping them with more mobile technology.
Peduto is also keeping pressure on the bureau to diversify its ranks and said the city is prepared to hire two additional classes of recruits in 2017. Typically, recruiting classes can contain up to 20 total officers each.
The plans for the police department are an extension of former chief Cameron McLay’s goals to make the force more racially diverse, to increase officer interaction with residents, to undergo procedural justice and bias training and to increase officers’ use of data and technology. These changes may be the most difficult to implement as Peduto is already clashing with officers and the Fraternal Order of Police since McLay left a week ago. The mayor harshly criticized officers after they held a crowd back with riot gear and deployed smoke bombs at a peaceful protest Wednesday night despite not making any arrests.
Robert Swartzwelder, the president of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, in turn called the Mayor’s comments to officers on scene “unprofessional and dangerous.”
In addition to the budget allocations for the police force, Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle presented three proposals at Monday’s meeting to buy more equipment for the bureau. He proposed to spend $1.5 million on body cameras for police officers; about $36,000 on camera recording equipment for the force; and $29,750 on ethics training software.
To cheers from the crowd gathered in City Council chambers, Peduto announced next year’s budget would allow the city to continue to fund early childhood education programs and continue to implement affordable housing projects in low- and middle-income neighborhoods.
The budget outlines that the department responsible for overseeing those changes, the Bureau of Neighborhood Empowerment, would receive a 5 percent increase in funding next year, giving it a total of $765,290 to spend.
In addition, Peduto also highlighted the importance of youth programs such as the Learn and Earn Program, which gives young people summer jobs, and said the city will put up an additional $1 million to continue the program next year using Community Development Funds.
The mayor described an all-inclusive pre-kindergarten program for the city’s children as well as a “sustainable housing trust fund” that will allow low-income families to move to areas that are closer to public transit lines. He also outlined a program that will turn blighted homes into family housing. The money given to the Bureau of Neighborhood Empowerment will oversee most of those programs.
In his address, Peduto said spending on programs like these was a way to lift young people up and help everyone in the city get ahead, a dedication he wasn’t sure the incoming White House administration will share.
“It will be difficult times, I’m sure, over the next few years, but in 2017 we have the opportunity to say how cities throughout this country can prosper,” he said. “And we don’t have to go to Washington to create it, we can create it right here.”
Read the full budget plan here.