Beginning on May 9, the council members got together around one table to discuss our budget priorities and contrast those with the items included in the Mayor Gray’s budget. First, a note on the process: this type of discussion has historically been very helpful, as it is a rare opportunity for the full council to get together and speak more candidly than they often feel they are able to in a more formal meeting setting. In the interest of open government, we have now brought television cameras and microphones into the room. While it is great that members of the public can now witness these discussions, I have found unfortunately that the addition of the public eye leads to political posturing and grandstanding, which can reduce the quantity of productive dialogue.
One of the high points of Wednesday’s discussion was regarding the restoration of funding for the Housing Production Trust Fund, which is a program I created the legislative authority for with then-council member Adrian Fenty. I am a big supporter of this program because it actually works to create affordable housing for those who need it. When I created the program, I also instituted a dedicated funding source from the deed and recordation tax revenue so that it would always have the resources it needed. Unfortunately, my colleagues have raided this money repeatedly, using it instead for the Rent Supplement Program. This program is supposed to help working families make rent payments by supplementing the amount of rent they are able to pay. Its predecessor program was eventually done away with when it was discovered that landlords would simply raise rents by the amount of the government supplement payment, thus resulting in a windfall for landlords who could have afforded the lower rents they had in place prior to the supplement, while providing no additional benefit to the working families. If my colleagues want to fund the Rent Supplement Program, they should look for strategic cuts within the social services and education budgets, which have grown without accountability, rather than taking money from programs that work.
Another topic of discussion was the proliferation of traffic enforcement cameras contemplated in the mayor’s budget. I have been skeptical of the idea of attempting to balance the budget on the basis of increased fees charged to residents, and it sounds like we may consider lowering the fees associated with certain moving violations to compensate for the idea of the extra enforcement, under the principal that a lower ticket value is needed to deter traffic violations if the certainty of enforcement is higher. We also discussed the proper allocation of new revenues from parking pilot areas. I think these funds should remain within our local neighborhoods where they are generated, as the mayor proposed. Councilmember Cheh has subsequently recommended, in contrast, that the funds be taken and spent in other parts of the city.
I am not yet sure what the final budget proposal by the council chairman will look like, but I am hopeful that we will fund priorities of mine, such as libraries and parks, arts and humanities as well as the repeal of the confusing tax on out-of-state municipal bonds. I would appreciate your support and ask that you contact me and my colleagues over the next week with your views.