For First Time in Two Years, Councilmember Evans Plans to Approve D.C. Budget
At a Town Hall meeting Thursday, Ward 2 residents questioned Mayor Gray on the proposed 2013 D.C. budget. From longer school days to expanded automatic enforcement of traffic violations and an overhauled taxi system, here's what to expect in the coming ye
Despite concern over a projected $1.71 million shortfall and potential cuts to federal funding, Mayor Vincent Gray's proposed 2013 budget was well received at Thursday’s Town Hall meeting, as he outlined ambitious plans to raise revenue and maintain funding for most District programs.
Through better tax collection methods, increased auto ticket enforcement, and extended bar and liquor store hours, Gray hopes to raise an additional $69.4 million. He also hopes to give the District a competitive edge in the region by lowering the capital gains tax from 8.4 to 3.5 percent, which he believes would grow the local economy by attracting additional business to D.C.
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"We're looking at a better and more stable financial picture this year, but I'm still very concerned about federal cuts," said Gray. "People are very serious about them, and we would be disproportionately affected."
At the meeting, Ward 2 councilmember Jack Evans had warm words for Gray and the 2013 budget, but Evans raised concerns about the budget's long term sustainability.
"The good side of this budget is that it doesn't raise taxes and fees for residents, but I'm concerned that this year will be the largest budget passed in history," said Evans who for the first time in two years indicated support for the 2013 budget. "There is no other jurisdiction that has a larger budget each year...we can't go on spending sprees and not get results."
Evans questioned the wisdom of increasing school budgets when previous increases have not improved performance and said he would like to see more funding for the arts, affordable housing and neighborhood maintenance.
The proposal to extend bar and liquor store hours has dominated question and answer discussions at other town hall meetings, but Ward 2 residents at Thursday’s meeting were more concerned about library funding, proposed changes to D.C.'s school system and cuts in funding to affordable housing programs.
"We need to expand our funding for libraries so they can be open on evenings and weekends, libraries provide such an essential service to our communities" said D.C. resident and Vice President of the Dupont Circle Citizens association, Robin Diener, before asking Gray to commit to allocating more funds for public libraries.
Other notable changes proposed at the meeting include a plan to overhaul the districts 6,500 taxis that would make cab colors uniform and add credit card machines, GPS technology and secure alert systems for drivers and passengers to every cab. “In the next six to eight months, I’d like to see card readers in every cab,” said Gray.
Improved education was another focus of discussion. The mayor outlined plans to start a pilot program that would extend school days to 4:30 or 5 p.m., and hinted at plans to consolidate and close existing schools as a way to cut fixed costs. When questioned about closures, Gray hesitated to go into detail but noted that D.C. has more school buildings than surrounding counties with much larger student populations.
Specifics on where additional automatic traffic enforcement technology would be installed were not given at the meeting, but in the budget plan, they are projected to raise $30 million.
The first budget vote is set for May 15, and a list of remaining budget meetings can be found here. If you weren’t able to attend the town hall meeting and have question or concern to raise about the proposed budget, reach out to your councilmember, or tweet your thoughts to @councilofDC.