The D.C. Council on Tuesday unanimously passed a $16.7 billion fiscal 2021 budget, including funds for a new St. Elizabeths East Hospital despite a decline in revenue amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The final vote on the total budget, local and federal portions, took place with minimal additions and with a backdrop of a decline in monies coming into the District at the level of $800 million, according to the District’s chief financial officer. A July 23 session largely finalized the local part of the District’s budget and the July 28 session closed deliberations on the whole process.
At the meeting, Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8) inserted a friendly amendment to include returning citizens in an aid program supported by Events DC for undocumented workers who aren’t eligible for unemployment insurance. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), over the objections of David Grosso (I-At Large), who chairs the Committee on Education, and council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), passed an additional budget amendment essentially requiring public charter school boards to open their meetings to the public.
The council passed the bulk of the budget on July 23 in an additional session in which the advertising tax, strongly opposed by local news organizations and some businesses, withered away after receiving an endorsement by the legislative body on July 7. All but two of council members, Grosso and Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1), backed away from the tax with reasons ranging from its negative effect on small businesses to legislators such as Council members Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) and Robert White (D-At Large) arguing — and Mendelson ultimately agreeing — a revision commission should be reignited to study the District’s tax structure.
Nadeau voiced her displeasure with how the discussions about the advertising tax took place, while Grosso said the tax shouldn’t have been a burden on a “healthy business.”
Meanwhile, Council member Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7) led the effort to get funds for the St. Elizabeths East Hospital in Ward 8. The facility will have 136 beds and replace the United Medical Center, also located in Ward 8.
“I am ecstatic that we were able to get the new hospital bill passed,” Gray said. “This action was a long time coming and will vastly transform health care in Wards 7 and 8 by bringing equitable health services in the form of a new, state-of-the-art community hospital and health system. It will be built with an ambulatory care complex and two new urgent care centers on the east end of the city.”
The council also approved a measure sponsored by Allen to cut $15 million from the Metropolitan Police Department, mirroring a nationwide movement to shift law enforcement resources to social services.
Allen, who chairs the council’s Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety, believes in the national trends in many cities that some police resources can be shifted to alternative community safety programs, WTOP on June 25.
Metropolitan Police Department Chief Peter Newsham disagrees.
“What doesn’t seem to make common sense to me is to reduce the size of the police department,” Newsham told WTOP. “That, in effect, is what the chairman of the Judiciary Committee is recommending we do.”
The budget will go to Mayor Muriel Bowser for approval. After the mayor signs the budget, it will be transmitted to the U.S. Congress for review. If the Congress doesn’t object, the budget becomes law on Oct. 1, the start of the new fiscal year.
Cheh, in her remarks Tuesday, said lawmakers had to make tough decisions in light of the ongoing pandemic drastically cutting the city’s revenue.
“We had to balance the budget with this almost $1 billion shortfall,” Cheh said. “And there are more cuts to come and we will have to meet greater challenges. What we have here is a good document.”