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Bowser: ‘State of the District is Strong’

With pep in her step and a wide grin on her face, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser approached the podium Monday to deliver her fifth State of the District address with a distinct purpose in mind.

D.C. mayors have traditionally used the address to outlining their goals and priorities for the city since the days of the first mayor, Walter E. Washington. Bowser wanted to make it clear that the District has solid financial footing and things are going well in the city, despite the occupant in the White House.

“There is no doubt, the state of the District is strong,” she said.

Throughout her speech, Bowser talked about several of the numerous Democratic presidential candidates — particularly Sens. Kamala Harris (Calif.), Cory Booker (N.J.) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg — and what they could possibly do for the District if elected to the White House in 2020.

Bowser focused on Ward 8, mentioning the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Congress Heights and the Busboys and Poets in Anacostia.

“We believe that Ward 8 should have every opportunity to rise,” she said. “We aren’t stopping there.

“Last fall, I introduced the first [tax incremental financing] in Ward 8,” she said. “That means a $60 million investment for the new home of a 200-person government agency, a hotel and other amenities — right on Martin Luther King Avenue. With each investment: more jobs and new opportunities for residents of Ward 8 and beyond. And if we’re going to ensure residents in the East End have what residents enjoy in the West End, we need to realize every tool we can.”

The mayor said 18 out of the District’s 25 Opportunity Zones are in Wards 7 and 8. Opportunity Zones provide federal tax incentives to low-income areas and Booker co-authored the legislation to set it up with Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.).

She said the District has excellent financial health, but isn’t “financially tsunami-proof.”

“And as we continue through budget season, we must resist the temptation to write checks now that we cannot cash in recessionary times,” Bowser said.

For District residents, Bowser said that every third-, sixth- and ninth-grader will have a new laptop or tablet at the cost of $4.6 million. She said for UDC, her budget will fund the acquisition of 4250 Connecticut Ave. NW to expand the campus and plans to reopen Randle Highlands Elementary School in Ward 7.

The mayor said she plans to make the Early Learning Tax Credit permanent and to eliminate the tax on diapers, being a mother to toddler Miranda Elizabeth Bowser. She received applause when she said the city’s Circulator bus system would be free “from now on.”

District residents have repeatedly said affordable housing remains the number issue of concern. She plans to add $2 million for the Safe at Home programs that primarily benefits seniors as well as slash property taxes for longtime residents in their golden years.

Low and middle-income renters will get a tax credit from Bowser, increase the number of units for the homeless and increase the Housing Production and Preservation funds combined to $200 million and that would be a first.
The Workforce Housing Fund, at the level of $20 million, will help create housing for “teachers, police officers, firefighters, janitors, social workers and everyone else who has a good job but also needs to be able to find an affordable home.”

Bowser said she will work with Norton to have the RFK Stadium site to become District property instead of remaining in the federal inventory. She didn’t say anything about her desire to have the Washington Redskins return to the District.

The mayor said she wants to fund the D.C. police force to the level of 4,000 officers and help reform the District’s record-sealing process “and give more Washingtonians the fair shot they need.”

Bowser said the District itself needs a fair shot and noted the record number of co-sponsors for a bill supporting D.C. statehood.

The mayor closed by calling it an honor to be the leader of her hometown.

“Together, we will press on and because we will stick together, the state of the District will remain strong,” she said.

While most in the audience expressed approval of Bowser’s remarks, some had a wait-and-see attitude.

“I think the mayor’s speech was a good preview on the budget,” said D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D). “I liked it when she said we as a city need to be careful how we spend our money and how we need new revenue without raising taxes.”

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