Last week, Mayor Vincent Gray submitted his Fiscal Year 2013 budget proposal to the Council. The total proposed budget for the District is $11.3 billion, the largest in our city’s history. Of that amount, our proposed local funds budget for FY 2013 is $5.9 billion, which is $237 million more than the FY 2012 approved budget of $5.6 billion, an increase of 4.2%. Once you add in certain dedicated revenues, the entire general fund revenue proposal is $6.6 billion. While we also receive federal money in our budget, it is in the same proportional ballpark as that received by any other state. There is a common misconception that the federal government makes a separate contribution to the District, however, this type of payment was eliminated in 1996.
Over the past ten years, our local funds budget has gone from $3.7 billion to $6.1 billion, an increase of 64%. Much of this increase has been in the social services and education budgets. Today, almost 80% of our budget is used for social services, education, and public safety. In light of this extraordinary spending growth, I simply cannot understand the position of some of my colleagues and policy advocates who say we are not providing adequate funding for social services programs. An argument can perhaps be made that spending choices should be made more wisely, but we are not in need of any new revenue.
Fortunately, the Mayor seems to agree at least partially with those sentiments. I am pleased with certain aspects of the budget, such as the absence of any tax increases. I am also pleased to see at least a token increase in the homestead deduction, standard income tax deduction, and personal income tax exemption. I would go even further, however. Due to our large surplus from the past fiscal year and an increase in our quarterly revenue estimate, an argument could be made that we should return these tax dollars to taxpayers, and return the furlough money to our government employees.
I also have concerns that certain revenue raising proposals in the Mayor’s budget may not generate the projected levels of funds. Of particular concern is a proposal to expand the hours during which alcohol can be sold, from 2:00am to 3:00am on weekdays and from 3:00am to 4:00 am on weekends and holidays, for the apparent purpose of generating $1.3 million in increased sales tax revenue annually starting in FY 2013, and approximately $5.32 million in the four-year financial plan period. I believe many residents of Ward 2 will object to this type of change. Therefore, this will require that we find funding elsewhere. The Mayor also proposes to raise $24.8 million in new revenue from increased speed and red light ticket cameras. I disagree philosophically with this nickel-and-dime approach to balancing the budget.
Last year I expressed concerns about inadequate police funding in the budget. While I am encouraged by the Mayor’s commitment to fund additional officer positions, I disagree that a staff of 3,900 officers would constitute a “fully funded” police force. I believe we should increase our force to a minimum of 4,000 sworn officers at all times to protect us from rapid changes, such as when we reach a “retirement bubble.” I also believe we should provide at least $10 million in funding for the Commission on Arts & Humanities as well as additional funds for libraries and parks.
I will be working with my colleagues on the Council to make improvements to the Mayor’s proposal and hope to have your support. Last year, I voted “no” on the budget. I am hopeful that I will be able to support it this year.