Annual Budget Discussion Meeting Provides Pivot Point, Insight into Upcoming Topics of Debate

For those most passionate about the intricacies of how the Council does business, few annual rituals hold as much appeal as its annual budget discussion meeting.

This meeting serves as a pivot point in the Council budget process.  Prior to this critical meeting, every Council committee has already held both performance oversight and budget oversight hearings regarding the agencies in their jurisdiction. Additionally, they have marked up and voted out their committee budget reports.

Following this critical meeting, the full Council convenes to debate and vote on two critical pieces of legislation: the Budget Request Act (which includes the actual budget numbers for each agency) and the Budget Support Act (which makes any legislative changes needed to implement the Budget Request Act).  This year, these votes will occur on May 27, and the necessary second vote on the Budget Support Act will be on June 16.

Between the early part of the process, and its conclusion, lies the critical meeting itself. The budget discussion meeting held yesterday comes after the committees have had their final say, and before a unified budget document has coalesced. It is also the rare meeting that takes place in the Chairman’s conference room, but is televised. (Working meetings that precede the Council’s monthly legislative meetings also take place in the Chairman’s Conference Room, and are also open, but are lower profile.)

At the budget discussion meeting, the Chairman and Council Budget Director present the broad lines of the budget process and the key details, such as the total budget amount.  Each committee then presents the results of their markup, including changes made to the Mayor’s budget proposal. An open discussion follows each committee chair’s presentation, often shedding light on potential areas of disagreement either between the Council and the Mayor, or among Councilmembers.

Topics that elicited extended discussion at this year’s budget meeting include:

  • Whether police body-word cameras should be funded for the full MPD, or a subset
  • Whether the footage from these cameras should be available via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request
  • Whether the authority for the Office of the Attorney General should be expanded, and possible funding sources
  • Appropriate uses of settlement funds from an online hotel reservation class action suit
  • Funding status of the planned  multiuse 11th Street Bridge Park and a planned Ward 7 footbridge
  • Appropriate funding levels for homelessness services, and concern with elevated administrative costs
  • Whether the sales tax should be increased to 6%, or remain at 5.75%
  • Whether vaping/E-cigarettes should be covered by the sales tax, or the elevated tobacco tax
  • Whether planned cuts to the University of the District of Columbia should be reversed
  • Effectiveness of the DC Film Fund
  • Effectiveness of varied job training initiatives
  • Planned expansion of the Summer Youth Employment Program to 21 to 24 year olds
  • Reduction in Office of Aging funds
  • Criteria for the prioritization of DC Public Schools capital expenditures

On Tuesday, the Chairman will release his draft budget document, and on Wednesday, the Council will vote on it. Expect the topics above to potentially attract interest and debate at Wednesday’s meeting.