Many Washingtonians continue to debate over the priorities of the proposed fiscal year 2022-2023 budget that D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser will submit to the D.C. Council on Wednesday, March 16.
And a host of issues, challenges and concerns sit at the top of the list.
“The mayor really needs to focus on public safety,” said Kathy Henderson, a former Ward 5 advisory neighborhood commissioner. “It seems to me that the violence interrupters are not doing their jobs with all of the homicides taking place in the city. There should be no money for the violence interrupters. To me they are a waste of taxpayers’ money.”
The D.C. Council will review the mayor’s budget in a formal setting on March 18 in a public briefing. After the briefing, portions of the budget related to specific agencies and programs will be given to respective committees.
The committees will hold public hearings on their allocated portions of the budget and create their version of the mayor’s proposal in May. Final votes on the budget are scheduled to take place in June. Upon the mayor’s approval of the budget, it will be sent to the U.S. Congress for review. If Congress makes no changes, the budget will take effect Oct. 1, the start of the new fiscal year.
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) said the city’s fiscal health remains sound.
“This is our 25th annual clean audit opinion,” Mendelson said Feb. 2 after receiving a report from the D.C. Office of the Chief Financial Officer [CFO]. “We ended last year with a $697 million surplus. Of this, $282 million will be put automatically into the affordable housing that so many residents desperately need, via the Housing Production Fund.”
Mendelson noted the federally and locally mandated reserves (working capital/liquidity) are full at 60 days.
“This is remarkable considering many states are still recovering from the economic hit taken through the pandemic,” he said. “However, COVID-19 continues to impact employment and business activity, particularly the leisure and hospitality sectors.”
Mendelson believes Bowser should prioritize funding education.
“I am hoping the executive uses our surplus to increase funding for our schools,” he said. “If she doesn’t, I will ask the council to do so. We must continue to prioritize education and increase equity for all District students.”
While D.C. Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) also likes the District’s financial condition, he said more must be done to help needy residents.
“The COVID-19 recession continues to impact our hospitality and tourism industries and many District residents, workers and small businesses are still in need of assistance,” McDuffie said. “The financial strengths mentioned in the report, including the $697 million surplus, must be used to address both immediate challenges as well as long standing systemic issues that stymie prosperity for all D.C. residents.”
The DC Fiscal Policy Institute [DCFPI] serves as a think tank advocating for city policies that benefit low-income District residents. DCFPI acknowledges the city’s resilience and growing revenue but has called on Bowser and the council “to keep the promises made last year to residents struggling the most and leverage D.C.’s growing revenue to build on our progress toward a just recovery” in the proposed budget.
“Too many D.C. residents, particularly Black and Brown residents, women and immigrants are being pushed to the brink in the pandemic,” said DCFPI Executive Director Erica Williams. “The CFO’s new estimate shows us that D.C. can do much more to help residents who are struggling the most.”
DCFPI recommends the budget leverages surplus dollars for emergency rental assistance, expand relief payments for workers excluded from federal unemployment benefits, expand the Earned Income Tax Credit to include immigrants without a Social Security number, ensure the pay increase to early childhood educators is delivered equitably and doesn’t jeopardize their health care and fund housing vouchers and services that end homelessness.
Williams said Bowser and the council should also advance racial fairness.
“Last year, District leaders made a down payment on a just recovery by making budget investments that advanced racial and economic justice,” Williams said. “But an equitable recovery will take ongoing, intentional choices to address the underlying precarity that left too many residents at the mercy of this pandemic-induced recession. We urge D.C. leaders to use this budget session to help undo long-standing racial inequities and promote a recovery in which every resident can share in the city’s prosperity.”