April and May are busy months for the D.C. Council. Mayor Bowser released her budget request for fiscal year 2016 early in April, and the Council has been undertaking a complete evaluation. Much of the initial review is finished, and I’m happy to share some of the Council’s recommendations.
I’ll start with the Finance and Revenue Committee, which I chair. The committee recommended that the sales and parking tax not be increased in the upcoming budget (as the Mayor had proposed). Our economy – and the revenue that the District government collects in taxes and fees – continue to grow. At a time when the government has more money to spend than ever before, we shouldn’t be raising taxes on residents, instead making sure we are utilizing those funds as appropriately and effectively as possible.
The committee also recommended that the Council find $4 million in additional funding for the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities (DCCAH). Currently, DCCAH is scheduled to receive just $16 million to support programs for our children, artists across the city and the diverse community that makes Washington the most dynamic city in the country. In the nation’s capital, we should commit more than $16 million to this valuable work.
In addition to chairing the Finance and Revenue Committee, I also sit on the Judiciary and Transportation Committees. Both panels have submitted their recommendations to the full Council for review and approval.
I was disappointed that the Transportation Committee suggested reducing funding for alley and street rehabilitation, while we have alleys all across the city that are literally crumbling. I proposed an amendment to increase the funding by $5 million next year, but despite my vigorous lobbying on the dais, my colleagues rejected the increase. There is still some funding available for alley rehab, and I will continue to push the D.C. Department of Transportation to make sure Ward 2 alleys are being fixed as quickly as possible.
On the Judiciary Committee, the most notable change from the mayor’s proposal was a reduction in funding for police body cameras in the upcoming budget year. Council member Kenyan McDuffie, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, and I both fully support the body cameras. The recommendation is based on limited planning for how the cameras would be deployed and the still-undecided policy on how the footage would be made available to the public and the press.
The mayor has proposed to exempt all of this footage from the District’s open records law, but this significantly undermines our goal of greater accountability and safety. I’ll continue to work to make sure we have a fully funded, accountable body camera program for the District’s police officers.
The next step in the budget process is a review and vote by the entire Council on May 27 at 10 a.m. in the Council Chambers. The hearing will be open to the public and available on television and on the Council’s website. I’ll continue to keep you apprised of updates to the planned use of your tax dollars.
Jack Evans is the Ward 2 Councilmember, representing Georgetown since 1991.