At this point, District residents must think the Council votes on the budget every time it meets. For the past couple of months, that has been nearly correct. On April 1, Mayor Gray submitted his fiscal year 2012 budget proposal to the Council. After a period of committee hearings to scrutinize the numerous government agencies that comprise the executive branch of the District government, as well as substantial community input, the Council took a first vote on a revised budget proposal on Tuesday, May 24. An ostensibly final vote took place on June 14, but a further vote was held July 12 to make needed technical corrections and account for “new revenue” that was identified in the Chief Financial Officer’s revised quarterly revenue estimate in June.
I have had mixed feelings on this budget from the beginning. The budget, at nearly $11 billion, is the largest in the District’s history, and I have vocally opposed the Mayor’s budget proposal from the moment it was released. In our May and June votes, the Council wisely repealed Mayor Gray’s attempt to raise the personal income tax, keeping the rate at 8.5 percent. We also rejected the proposal to tax live theatre, which was simply a terrible idea in an environment where our arts institutions are already reeling from massive cuts in federal funding. We were able to reject a proposed doubling in the Circulator fare, as well as to delay a proposed hike in the parking tax. We also restored a number of safety net cuts made by the Mayor which would have reduced funding for homeless and housing services. The Council also increased funding to the Metropolitan Police Department to ensure we have at least 3,900 sworn officers on the force, which moves us in the direction of my eventual goal of a minimum number of 4,000 officers. Finally, the Council acted to restore a substantial amount of money to the District’s “savings account,” which helps to bolster our bond rating.
The one item I most strongly disagreed with in the Council’s proposed modifications to the Mayor’s budget was the decision to implement an unfair retroactive tax on the interest earned on out-of-state municipal bonds. In the original modification from the Chairman, the tax on this bond interest would not have gone into effect if we had a sufficient revenue increase in June. Seven of my colleagues repealed this provision, however, and when new revenue did arrive in June, it was quickly diverted to other uses. On July 12, however, we were able to pass an amendment to push the implementation of the tax back to cover only earnings from Jan. 1, 2012 and beyond, rather than taxing earnings already received since Jan. 1, 2011. This is an important first step, as it gives bondholders notice of a pending tax proposal and allows them to make strategic changes in their investments to compensate for the massive change in the tax. As additional revenue is identified in September, however, I remain hopeful that we will be able to further delay or fully reject this proposed tax.
The other major item that was moved forward last week was the District’s redistricting plan. On July 13, I hosted a Ward 2 Redistricting Task Force kickoff with support from the Office of Planning, the Board of Elections and Ethics, and the Office of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions. As you may recall, the Council finalized the Ward redistricting plan in June, and over the summer each Ward will form a committee to make any needed changes to Advisory Neighborhood Commission and Single Member District boundaries. While we had a great showing of Ward 2 residents seeking to be involved last week, we will continue to include other Ward 2 friends and neighbors who would like to give input in our neighborhood-based subcommittees. Please feel free to contact Ruth Werner at firstname.lastname@example.org or Kevin Stogner at email@example.com, both in my office, to be added to the redistricting distribution list, or to ask any specific questions you have. Or, if you just want to keep tabs on the process, more specific data is available at the ANC redistricting website at https://sites.google.com/a/dc.gov/redistricting. Please feel free to share this information with other Ward 2 residents who may be interested.