In a Welcome Shift, Council Passes Budget with Little Drama

 The beginning of the end of the FY 2016 budget process came with unanimous votes in a meeting whose duration ultimately proved to be shorter than its tardiness.

Like many things in Washington, a government process that might seem straightforward is in fact more complex. Our budget is encompassed by two bills, 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).  The District’s longstanding budget process includes a single Council vote on the Budget Request Act and two votes on the Budget Support Act.  Both bills then face Congressional review. (In an interesting side note, and based on news that broke while the Council was in session, this process could potentially soon change—more on that here.)

At the Council’s most recent meeting, unanimous budget votes were taken by the Council in two of its formulations, first as the Committee of the Whole, and then in a full Legislative Meeting. These votes included the likely-solo vote on the Budget Request Act, and the first of two votes on the Budget Support Act (with a second vote on this bill forthcoming on June 16).

Improving upon a framework proposed by Mayor Muriel Bowser, the budget as approved by the Council included the following, and/or made the following changes:

  • Eliminated a proposed sales tax increase and delayed a proposed garage parking tax increase and reversed an income tax increase on households that use the standard deduction
  • Provided $109 million for the Housing Production Trust Fund
  • Expanded an already-generous package of other affordable housing and anti-homelessness funds by nearly $10 million to end chronic homelessness in 2017
  • Created a first-ever single comprehensive system of prioritizing which schools receive modernization funds
  • Eliminated proposed $18.5 million cuts from the University of the District of Columbia’s operating and capital budgets
  • Provided funding for 1200 additional body-worn cameras for Metropolitan Police Department officers, and put in place a framework to potentially allow eventual Freedom of Information Act access to the footage
  • Increased funding and accelerated timing for the H Street “Hopscotch” Bridge reconstruction, a key component of the Union Station and streetcar projects
  • Supported the use of Tax Increment Financing to fund public infrastructure in the area surrounding Union Market
  • Accelerated planned personal and business tax relief by one year, if revenue targets are met
  • Extended provision of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits to those beyond the 60-month payment limit for one final year
  • Invested over $120 million for the United Medical Center facility
  • Funded two additional attorney positions in the Office of the Tenant Advocate
  • Funded two additional housing and commercial inspectors at the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, to ensure more extensive inspection of new developments, particularly outside of weekday business hours
  • Funded a Food Policy Director position for the District government, and provided startup funding for the Healthy Tots Program, so that preschools have standards for, and can qualify for funding to provide, nutritional meals
  • Provided startup funding for the Books from Birth program, which will mail a book a month to every enrolled child, through age five
  • Funded two additional staff members at the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability, and expanded the Board itself from three to five members
  • Provided an additional $6 million for alley rehabilitation
  • Provided $200,000 for researching and drafting a first-ever unified cultural plan for the District

A statement issued by Mayor Bowser immediately following the Council’s action provides every indication that she will ultimately sign the Council’s budget when it reaches her desk after the second necessary vote on June 16.