Strengthening Our Fiscal Footing
By April 6, 2016 0 977•
It’s officially budget season again in the District. Mayor Bowser released her budget proposal two weeks ago and I’ve had the opportunity to review this initial draft. It is a good budget. I want to commend the mayor, CFO Jeff Dewitt and their hardworking teams that have put this budget together.
First, I appreciate that this budget contains only a 2.7-percent spending increase over this year’s budget. In the past, the District’s spending has increased 4, 5, even 12 percent from one year to the next. This is important because it means that, while the District’s economy is expected to grow, an even larger share of the District’s growth will be enjoyed by individuals and small businesses rather than paid in taxes.
That’s especially true as we continue to enact parts of the major tax overhaul that was proposed by a blue-ribbon Tax Revision Commission led by former Mayor Anthony Williams and approved by the Council in 2013. This year, the business franchise tax will drop to 9.0 percent and the estate tax threshold will increase to $2 million from $1 million — a critical increase for the many District families who have seen their home values increase dramatically.
Beyond the overall size of the budget, the mayor’s proposal includes much that I agree is important. For example, the mayor endorsed my position to fully commit the District’s contribution to WMATA’s budget to prevent any fare increases; fund the Housing Production Trust Fund at $100 million; continue to provide much needed upgrades and modernizations to our schools; and, of particular importance to me, fund the Fillmore Arts program for the five elementary schools that lack necessary space for their own arts education.
As good as these moves are, however, there are some areas that continue to be underfunded.
Our local infrastructure — sidewalks, streets, alleys — is in disrepair and needs an increased level of attention. Despite this, the capital budget for Fiscal Year 2017 went down by $6,000 in every ward from what was anticipated in last year’s budget. We need to focus more energy in ensuring that our roadways are safe and secure for all users.
While the budget is strong, we continue to underperform in delivering results on many projects. The Hyde-Addison Elementary renovations continue to be delayed by DC Public Schools planning. In other parts of the ward, we have seen delays in the modernization of Garrison and Francis-Stevens schools and the proposed park over the Connecticut Avenue overpass. In the coming weeks, the Council will hold hearings to question how agencies plan to fully utilize their budgets for the upcoming year.
While this is a good budget, we have to continue to push forward to make our fiscal footing stronger, our government more efficient and our city more affordable and equitable for all residents.
Jack Evans is the District Council member for Ward 2, representing Georgetown and other neighborhoods since 1991.