Bowser Budget Draws Mixed Reviews

by: James Wright Special to the AFRO jwright@afro.com
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D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser recently released her fiscal year 2018 $13.85 billion budget for the District, titled “DC Values in Action,” on April 4.  The reactions to it have been favorable with some concerns that it doesn’t do enough for struggling residents.

This is Bowser’s third proposed budget. In a statement, she said, “. . . this budget fulfills our commitment to promote and defend ‘D.C. Values’ and to aim for inclusive prosperity.”

D.C. Council member Robert White said he thinks that the mayor’s budget is a good start. (Courtesy Photo)

“From historic investments in public education, to investments in job training, second chances for returning citizens, and ensuring our families have a safe, affordable place to call home, this budget prioritizes D.C. residents by standing steadfast to our D.C. values,” the mayor said.

Highlights of the budget include increasing funds for the University of the District of Columbia and the Community College of the District of Columbia by $5.7 million; investing $1.3 billion in school modernization; $11.7 million in recruiting and retaining D.C. police officers; $2.3 million for the creation of a Returning Citizens Portal that offers an array of services; $100 million for the Housing Production Trust Fund; $103 million for the redevelopment of St. Elizabeths Hospital, $14 million for the redevelopment of Walter Reed; $20 million for the summer youth employment program; $900,000 for the D.C. Department of Small and Local Business Development CBE system to aid city firms; $16.8 million toward the Washington, D.C. Infrastructure Academy at St. Elizabeths East; $3.8 million in the city’s snow budget; and expanding the D.C. Department of Public Works’ operations with $3.2 million.

D.C. Council member Robert White (D-At Large) told the AFRO that the mayor’s budget is a good start. “We will need to double down on affordable housing and funding for the schools,” he said. “We need to have the resources to build the middle class and make the type of investments to see that happen.”

D.C. Council member Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7), who served as mayor from 2011-2015, wasn’t so supportive. Gray made it clear he understood the work it takes to put together a budget for the District. “However, after having read most of this budget, I cannot reconcile the budget’s title “D.C. Values in Action . . . with the actions proposed in this budget,” he said.”A budget is supposed to be a policy document that reflects the citizens’ priorities, but unfortunately, this budget doesn’t represent D.C. values. Residents in D.C. value education, safe communities, and a health care system that is accessible to and serves everyone.”

Gray, who lost the April 1, 2014 Democratic Party mayoral primary to Bowser, complained in a statement about the “costly error[s]” such as spending $40 million for a snow storm, an overrun human services budget, and “a general feeling that we are spending lots of money in certain areas without a real plan or vision about how to actually deliver results.”

A number of progressive organizations have expressed concerns that the budget includes $100 million in tax cuts while under-funding programs that address poverty and homelessness that affect poor District residents and people of color. Those organizations include Bread for the City, Children’s Law Center, DC Alliance of Youth Advocates, the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, Jews United for Justice and Miriam’s Kitchen.

“Instead of devoting our money to housing, schools and other services, the budget puts tax cuts first,” Ed Lazere, executive director of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, said in a statement. He said the budget prioritizes tax cuts and that’s not right. “Mayor Bowser’s budget does not live up to her own goal of ‘inclusive prosperity’ – ensuring that all D.C. residents benefit from our growing economy – and we call on the council to do more.”

In essence, progressive organizations wanted more funds for housing units for the chronic homeless, more money for the rental assistance program, children experiencing homelessness and the city’s health system.

Bowser’s budget will be subject to changes by the D.C. Council. The council will vote on the final budget on May 30 and then, if approved, it will be sent back to Bowser for her signature. If Bowser signs off on the budget, it will be transmitted to the Republican controlled Congress for review and, if everything moves along smoothly, the new fiscal year in the city will begin on Oct. 1.

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