Last week, Mayor Muriel Bowser unveiled her proposed budget and financial plan for the coming fiscal year. The action now shifts to the District Council, where the budget — likely to be the largest in D.C.’s history — will be reviewed, evaluated and passed.
I want to thank and congratulate Mayor Bowser, City Administrator Rashad Young, CFO Jeffrey DeWitt and their teams on the hard work they’ve undertaken over the past several months to put together this proposed budget for FY 2018.
I believe this is a good budget that continues to focus on our most important priorities — schools, affordable housing and public transportation — while also making good on our long-standing promise to lower tax rates across the board, making the District an easier place to live and run a business.
We’ve continued to experience unanticipated tax revenue. Rather than increase our spending in an unsustainable and ineffective way, this budget contains an appropriate 1.3-percent expenditure growth. It makes strategic decisions to fund programs that work and will benefit from continued investment while adjusting or eliminating those that aren’t effective at improving our city or helping our residents.
Compared to this modest 1.3-percent growth, in the past the District’s spending has increased 4, 5, even 12 percent from one year to the next. These spending increases didn’t make the budgets better or necessarily help more people; they only diminished the evaluation of how to invest our resources.
Beyond the overall size of the budget, the mayor’s proposal includes much that we agree is important. For example, the mayor continues to endorse my position to fully commit the District’s contribution to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority budget; fund the Housing Production Trust Fund at $100 million; and provide much-needed upgrades to our schools.
There are some areas where I would like to see greater investment, and I look forward to working with the Council to consider such adjustments.
As I have said for several years now, one item that continues to need our attention is enhanced funding for the arts. This year, the mayor has proposed an operating budget of $20 million for the arts. This is encouraging, but I feel we should give priority to raising that amount to at least $25 million.
I plan to include language in the budget to create dedicated funding for the arts from sales tax revenue generated at playoff sporting events in the District and by finally collecting sales tax on Smithsonian museum purchases. With the complete elimination of federal funding for the arts a very real possibility, the city must continue to lead in supporting arts education and opportunity for all its residents.
We also need to direct greater oversight to our growing debt obligation, now totaling more than $9.5 billion. We must get our capital spending under control, be smart about project oversight and look for new technologies to maintain our assets.
Overall, the District is on very sound financial footing, underscored by our 20 consecutive clean audits, second straight audit with no material weakness or financial management deficiencies and the mayor’s responsible budget proposal. The Council will be holding public hearings on the budget over the next few weeks, and I encourage everyone interested to sign up to testify or to submit written comments on where you think the city should invest our tax dollars.