The Pennsylvania State Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill last week that would withhold state grant money from so-called “Sanctuary Cities.” It’s a somewhat unprecedented — but totally predictable —move from a state legislature that’s become openly hostile to its own economic and cultural hubs in recent years. If made into law, it could have a detrimental effect on—among other things—street infrastructure.
The Municipal Sanctuary and Federal Enforcement Act, or SAFE Act, would target Pennsylvania’s “sanctuary cities,” of which there are at least 19. The bill passed overwhelming, 37-12, by a bipartisan group of lawmakers.
What “sanctuary city” means in real terms: the municipality does not cooperate with the federal government in prosecuting undocumented persons for violating immigration laws, and provides city services to all individuals regardless of their immigration status.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney has already said he will not alter the city’s “sanctuary city” status, despite the bill’s passage. Philadelphia and other sanctuary cities have also been threatened by the federal government in a similar way.
In addition to the potential humanitarian crisis that could unfold, this bill becoming law could keep $638 million in state funding from the city. That’s bad. And I’m here to tell you more than $12 million in yearly alternative transportation and trail infrastructure could also be stripped from the city if the SAFE Act is signed into law. Philadelphia’s bicycling infrastructure is largely funded through state grants.
In 2016 alone, Philadelphia received more than $12 million for bicycle and pedestrian projects from Pennsylvania.
This included the upcoming extension of the Schuylkill River Trail, from South Street to Christian Street; a Valley Green Road Pedestrian Trail in Northwest Philly; Philadelphia’s Indego bike sharing program; a multi-modal accessibility improvement project at Penn’s Landing along the Delaware River; the Mantua Greenway; improvements to Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive; and plenty of others.
Of course, Philadelphia being the biggest city in the state, and the largest economic center, these projects are largely funded by the people of this city, whose money is sent to the state and federal government, then sent back to us in the form of grants. Yay taxation!
It seems, though, that the legislature is emboldened by newly-elected President Trump, whose Muslim travel ban found families legally traveling to the U.S. detained for up to 19 hours in airports, and 5-year-old children handcuffed. Trump’s press secretary later defended shackling the child, noting, “To assume that just because of someone’s age and gender that they don’t pose a threat would be misguided and wrong.”
The good news? Although the bill will probably pass the House, Pennsylvania’s governor has already said he has problems with the legislation. The potential law was also written in a weirdly vague manner, so it’s not totally clear what it’d look like on the ground, if it were made law.
Either way, there’s a lot on the line if the SAFE Act passes, and none of it looks too good for Philadelphia.
Randy LoBasso is communications director of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.