Two-Day Meeting Yields Unanimous Budget Vote, Big Progress on Hospitals, Vision Zero

In a rare Thursday session that concluded business begun two days earlier, the Council unanimously approved the financial core of the multi-bill budget package for FY 2021 in the second of two necessary votes. This bill, the Local Budget Act, includes the more dollars-and-cents budget line item-style elements of the budget. The final remaining piece of the budget puzzle is the Budget Support Act, which includes all legislative changes embodied in the legislative process. It will receive its second of two needed approval votes at our next Legislative Meeting on July 28.

The primary difference between the version of the Local Budget Act first passed on July 7 and the subsequent version (as discussed at the intervening Legislative Meeting before being again passed at the most recent one) was the removal of a proposed three percent sales tax on advertising. Absent the $18 million this tax would have generated in revenues, a corresponding reduction in proposed expenditures was required. Despite concerns among some that this reduction would result in a deep reduction in the planned increase in social spending the Council had earlier added to the budget, in the end, the package of reductions was far less onerous.

As indicated in our summary of the first Local Budget Act vote, despite the profound fiscal impacts of the ongoing COVID public health crisis, the Council was still able to target funds towards critical public priorities. Among the provisions in the Council’s version of the budget bills were millions in additional funding for:

  • the Housing Production Trust Fund
  • new affordable housing capacity via federal Section 108 Affordable Housing funds
  • overdue repairs to public housing
  • hundreds of additional Local Rent Supplement Program housing units for extremely low-income families
  • eviction prevention and homeless services
  • a cash assistance program for excluded workers, including undocumented immigrants
  • helping reverse the Mayor’s cuts to Behavioral Health rehabilitation programs
  • student social/emotional learning (redirected from school security funds)
  • violence interruption, restorative justice (funds redirected from the Metropolitan Police Department)
  • full funding and implementation of the Racial Equity Achieves Real Change Act
  • development of a racial equity tool/dashboard
  • implementation of the Tipped Wage Worker Fairness Amendment Act
  • enforcement of the Universal Paid Leave Act
  • grants and programs supporting disadvantaged businesses
  • restoring increased library hours and increased circulation

Hospital Bills Advance

Legislation central to the creation of two new hospitals, one on the St. Elizabeth’s campus, and the other a replacement for Howard University Hospital, both moved forward at the most recent meeting. The St. Elizabeth’s bill was unanimously approved in the second of two necessary votes.  This bill would create a publicly-funded hospital, to be run by the same owner as George Washington University Hospital, which would be scheduled to open in 2024. It would replace the current United Medical Center. The bill also requires that two urgent care centers would open in Wards 7 and 8.

The second hospital measure, to provide a tax abatement for a new Howard University Hospital, received its first of two necessary votes at the most recent Legislative Meeting. Given that 14 days must elapse between votes, or “readings” of a bill, and given that our next Legislative Meeting falls far short of that threshold, the second vote on this bill will occur after the Council’s recess, which extends from August 1 to September 7.

Vision Zero Legislation Halfway to Passage

Also receiving the first of two needed votes at the most recent Legislative Meeting was the long-pending omnibus Vision Zero measure, with a core focus on eliminating all traffic fatalities in DC by 2024. Through infrastructure improvements, increased penalties against construction contractors who block or fail to replace damaged crosswalks/bike lanes, improved traffic enforcement and data sharing, traffic law changes, and better education, the bill asserts that transportation-related deaths are not inevitable, must be avoided, and can be through intelligent action that puts people, not vehicles, first. Much like the Howard University hospital tax abatement, given the required 14-day delay between “readings,” this bill must wait until after our recess for its second vote.