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D.C. Residents Carefully Consider Bowser Budget

District residents are pondering D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s fiscal year 2021-2022 budget proposal.

The mayor unveiled the $17.5 billion budget proposal on May 27 at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Northwest. The local portion of the budget, funds generated from residents and businesses, is to constitute about $9.2 billion. Bowser’s proposal doesn’t include any tax increases for residents and businesses and President Biden’s American Rescue Plan funds to fill in fiscal gaps to balance the budget.

Highlights of the budget include funding the Housing Production Trust Fund at $400 million, a historic level; increasing the financing of the Building Blocks DC program — designed to use social services to fight crime — from $15 million to $45 million; $7.8 million for more violence interrupters and $400,000 for messengers considered credible in the community; $58 million to help fund full-service grocery stores in Wards 7 and 8; $15 million for cash assistance to people who don’t qualify for federal unemployment; $21 million to build a new pedestrian and bicycle bridge connecting Barry Farm to the Anacostia Metro; a previously announced 3.6 percent increase in the base amount of the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula plus increases for English Language Learners and at-risk students and $20 million for the Alexander Crummell School in Ward 5 for a recreation center and housing. However, the Metropolitan Police Department’s budget will be reduced by $36 million but the cadet corps will receive $3.4 million to add 100 new slots.

Police Cuts Praised

The Defund MPD Coalition said it liked the MPD’s reduction but said it didn’t go far enough to reach their goal of a 50% cut in three years and a significant reinvestment in programs benefitting Black and working-class communities.

“After a year of uprising, this proposal is a step in the right direction but doesn’t get the job done,” said Irma Crooms, a leader with Metro DC Democratic Socialists of America. “The police aren’t out there solving crimes or stopping violence: they’re harassing unhoused neighbors and racially profiling Black residents. The police shouldn’t don’t keep us safe, and they shouldn’t get $514 million next year.”

McDuffie’s Concerns

D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5), while praising the budget overall on May 27, said it didn’t go far enough to address the District’s racial wealth gap. The council member requested $20 million to fund the Child Wealth Building Act of 2021 and $100 million for a guaranteed basic income pilot program but neither got included in the budget.

“Our city has one of the worst racial wealth gaps in the country; not funding programs that intentionally address this disparity defers the dream of real racial equity for another year.” McDuffie said.

Nonetheless, McDuffie expressed satisfaction with the mayor funding a new Alexander Crummell School recreation and community center in the Ivy City section of his ward at $20 million, saying residents have long asked for that. Gordon-Andrew Fletcher, chairman of the Ward 5 Democrats, agreed with McDuffie on the renovation of the Crummell School.

“The residents there have fought for 20-30 years for that project and putting money into it is the right thing to do,” Fletcher said. “The kids in that area need a place to play and they will also benefit from the community center.”

Budget’s Fiscal Impact

Erica Williams, the executive director of the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, said “this year’s budget is a historic opportunity to repair the damage done by the COVID-19 crisis and ‘build back better’, especially for Black and Brown residents, who have borne the brunt of harm.”

“We applaud her bold investments in affordable housing, higher wages for city workers, direct economic supports to residents, and funding for school-based mental health services,” Williams said. “Our understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of this budget will continue to evolve as we assess the details of the mayor’s plan. We look forward to seeing the D.C. Council build on the strengths of the mayor’s proposal to ensure that D.C. maximizes this unprecedented opportunity for a just recovery and future.”

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