Civic News

The controller’s office created this data viz tool to clarify Philly’s newly proposed budget

Check out the breakdown of proposed budget cuts and revenue year by year: "We really are committed to the transparency piece of this situation."

You go, TechGirlz.

(GIF via YouTube)

Last week, the City of Philadelphia announced that it would be revising its 2020-2021 proposed budget to deal with the added expenses its experienced while fighting the coronavirus epidemic.

Mayor Jim Kenney estimated that over the next five years, the government would have to make up a $650 million hole created by dealing with the pandemic. Many offices and departments would see cuts,  including the Office of Workforce Development and the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy.

And the City’s options for taking on debt are limited, CEO Chris Wink explored this week.

“Unlike the federal government, which includes control of the money supply by our central bank, local governments have no such monetary power,” he wrote. “Cities have only three budgetary tools: increasing revenue, decreasing expenses and issuing debt, primarily through municipal bonds.”

While the city figures out where it can spare money in its future budget, the Office of the Controller released a data visualization tool for the public to better understand where proposed cuts will come from. (City Council has not yet ratified the proposed budget, and it won’t take effect until the new fiscal year on July 1.)


The data tool, which reviews the entire five-year proposed plan year by year (2021 to 2025), allows users to see spending data by fiscal year, City department, spending class and spending category. Revenue data can also be viewed by fiscal year and revenue source, and the tool includes a guide for terms like “general fund” and the breakdown of taxes and other revenue.

Check it out

While some offices, like arts and culture and the city representative, are being totally cut, the 2021 budget actually proposes additional spending in some areas, like the Office of Innovation and Technology, which is getting a 19% increase in spending next year, the tool shows. Most of that additional spending will go toward materials and equipment, personal services and purchase of services in 2021.

The tool also shows the the brunt of spending cuts and increased revenue are coming mostly in the next year or two, with $341 million in cuts slated for 2021, and only $35 million slated in 2025.

“We’re taking a larger look at what’s happening, what [the City] is going to do and what we are looking at,” said Jolene Nieves Byzon, the controller office’s director of communications.

The office has a two-person finance, police and data unit, Nieves Byzon said, and Nick Hand, the unit’s director, built the data viz tool along with Sara DeNault, its senior associate.

The tool is built using the spending and revenue data from the city, and the backend of the tool is available on Github. Both are available for download so others could build similar tools or create projects with the projected numbers.

“We really are committed to the transparency piece of this situation,” Nieves Byzon said. “We will continue to figure out ways to help people understand what’s going on.”

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