Potential Consensus and Disagreement Emerge as Council and Mayor Exchange Views on Budget

Since the end of last month, Mayor Bowser’s FY 2016 budget proposal has been gradually coming into focus for members of the Council. On March 31, as they sat in the audience at the Mayor’s State of the District Address, they received their first sneak peek into the broad themes of the budget. Two days later, some details were filled in at a Mayor/Council breakfast meeting.  That same day, the multi-volume budget document itself was released.

For the ensuing week and a half, Councilmembers and their staff pored over that phone book-sized document, honing in on proposed increases, cuts, and ward-level impacts of the proposed funding.  Now, finally, Councilmembers have had their first of what will be many opportunities to question the Mayor and her Administration about the budget, and to let them know their potential areas of concern.

Chairman Phil Mendelson, followed by each of his ten colleagues, provided opening statements in which they praised some elements of the proposal (robust affordable housing and anti-homelessness spending, full funding for Metro) while criticizing others (tax increases, public school funding cuts, and cuts to the University of the District of Columbia).

The Mayor then presented the Council with a broad outline of her budget’s content and themes. Seated in the Council Chamber for the first time at the witness table, rather than her previous spot at the Council dais, Mayor Bowser stated that she had closed a $192 million budget gap and was presenting a balanced $12.9 billion budget. She explained that the gap was due to expenditures rising at a faster rate than revenue, necessitating both program cuts and tax increases.

Following the Mayor’s remarks, Councilmembers directed a first round of questions at her directly, followed by a second round that were addressed primarily to City Administrator Rashad Young and Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey DeWitt.  Questions focused on a number of topics, including:

  • Implementation of a funding bump for at-risk children, and how it had led to decreased operating funds for certain schools
  • The Mayor’s one-year delay of a long-required but never implemented phasing out of payments to longtime Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) recipients, as approved by the Council last year
  • Delayed or reduced infrastructure spending, including the Hopscotch Bridge, 11th Street Bridge park project, and the long-pending streetcar
  • Delays in planned capital expenses for certain school reconstruction and renovation projects
  • The need for, and benefit of, tax increases such as the sales tax and parking taxes
  • Cuts to Medicaid reimbursement rates from 98% to 86%
  • Reductions in funding for senior recreation programs
  • Decreased or nonexistent funding for  specific efforts such as the Healthy Tots nutrition program, the District’s film incentive program, and the Food Policy Council

Over the next four weeks, Council committees will hold agency-by-agency budget oversight hearings.  At those hearings, the public can testify, and Councilmembers can ask much more detailed questions directly to those charged with leading District agencies.  Finally, the entire Council will again come together with the public at a May 8 hearing of the Committee of the Whole to discuss the legislative changes proposed by the Mayor in the Budget Support Act.

For a complete, easy-to-understand look at the Council’s annual budget process, from start to finish, check out this “Council 101” article.

Mayor Muriel Bowser