Jack Evans Report: 2014 Budget Highlights
I was pleased to work with the Mayor Gray as he developed the fiscal year 2014 budget, which will be the District’s 17th consecu- tive balanced budget. I support many of the mayor’s objectives as reflected in this proposal, including restoring funding for the Housing Production Trust Fund. I was pleased to see that many other issues for which I have advocated are also funded in the budget. Let me tell you about a few of the highlights.
First, I have been advocating for quite a while that our libraries be kept open longer. I introduced a bill to mandate that libraries be open seven days a week, and for longer hours. The mayor included in his budget proposal an increase in funding so that all of our public libraries will be open on Sundays. The budget includes $8 million toward new hours and an additional $2 million for new books.
I was also pleased to see included funding to repeal the tax on out-of-state municipal bonds that had been put in the budget a couple of years ago by the prior Council chairman. I introduced and passed a bill to repeal this tax, but it needs an appropriation in order for the repeal to be implemented. The bond tax disproportionately impacts our senior citizens and those near retirement. Rather than encourage these residents to move elsewhere, I am hopeful that we can keep them in the District, where they will continue to contribute to the civic and cultural life of our city.
The budget also includes allocations for projects of importance to Ward 2, such as funds to restore and enhance Stead Park and Mitchell Park, and to keep the DMV located at Georgetown Park. Another item of importance to Ward 2 residents is public safety. I introduced a bill to mandate 4,000 officers as minimum police staffing in 2011. I am glad my proposal is coming to fruition with the mayor’s inclusion of a line item to fully fund 4,000 police officers. Finally, while no longer technically in Ward 2, I have long pushed that the city fulfill its promise to rebuild Shaw Middle School, which serves a dynamic and growing population of District residents, including Ward 2 residents.
The budget also funds a number of citywide initiatives of importance to me. For example, the budget provides for “supercan” trash receptacle replacements throughout the city, which improves the cleanliness of our neighborhoods. This is an issue I have spoken about many times and raised again just a few weeks ago at our legislative meeting. I was also pleased to see funding included for two citywide capital projects I advocated for: $15 million to rebuild the Fort Dupont Ice Rink, in Ward 7; and $18 million for the renovation of the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center, in Ward 8.
One item that continues to need our attention is enhanced funding for the arts. Last year, I identified funds to increase the allocation to the Commission on the Arts & Humanities by more than $6 million. Unfortunately, these were “one time” dollars that were not renewed in the mayor’s 2014 proposal. These cuts are partially offset, however, by a countervailing increase in the commission’s capital budget by more than $2 million in new funding per year. In addition, nonprofits, such as the city’s arts organizations, can apply for up to $100,000 per year, for a total of $300,000, from the “One City Fund” that the mayor has established with a balance of $15 million. I am hopeful that these two funding sources will be used to backfill the other reductions and make sure that our arts community continues to provide important educational and economic development benefits to our city.
This is an important time in the financial life of our city, particularly in light of the upcoming transition of our chief financial officer due to Natwar Gandhi’s recent decision to retire. I believe we are still on very sound financial footing, however, as underscored by our recent bond rating upgrade and the mayor’s responsible budget pro- posal. The District Council will be making its own recommendations regarding the budget in coming weeks. So, please, share your views with me and with my colleagues. ★