The 2013 budget for the District of Columbia that was recently passed by the D.C. Council has been lauded for its fiscal soundness and its attention to those who are most in need.
On Tue., May 15, the D.C. Council passed the $9.6 billion city budget by a vote of 12-0. D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown (D), who played a major role in the budget's makeup and its passage, said that his colleagues took into consideration what District residents wanted.
"With this budget, the Council has taken the right steps to ensure that our students grow, prosper and thrive; providing health care for our disadvantaged populations; funding affordable housing investments for our future; caring for our seniors and most vulnerable citizens; and expanding community and economic development," said Brown, 41.
Highlights of the budget include $37 million for full facilities modernization for Dr. John Hayden Johnson Middle School in Southeast; funding two new middle schools in Ward 5 to be built by 2014; $18 million to the Housing Production Trust Fund; $4 million to local rent subsidies; $2.5 million to the popular Home Purchase Assistance Program to help residents become home owners with low-interest loans and closing cost assistance; $20.5 million in funding restored to the DC Health Care Alliance to provide free or reduced-cost medical care to low-income residents, such as undocumented immigrants; and $1.8 million in technical assistance for small businesses.
There's also $2.2 million to increase the library circulation fund; $6.8 million for grants to the arts; and monies for the renovation of more than 20 neighborhood playgrounds and parks throughout the District.
The budget calls for extended bar and alcohol sales on selected weekends and holidays throughout the year.
The budget went through its first reading on May 15 and is tentatively scheduled to go through its final reading on Tue., June 5. D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D) praised the budget "that includes no new taxes or fees and that closely tracks my priorities."
The budget's attention to housing piqued the interest of Pho S. Palmer, a resident of the Congress Heights section of Ward 8 in Southeast.
"Ward 8 is the last frontier of affordable housing in the District of Columbia," said Palmer, 45. "Even here in Ward 8 rents are increasing and so are housing prices."
Brown said that at Gray's One City Summit a few months ago, affordable housing was the top item that residents thought that the city should work on.
Joseph Jones, an employee of a tele-fundraising firm in Northwest, said he was pleased that city leaders didn't raise taxes or fees.
"I think that it is very appropriate that they did not do that," said Jones, 61. "These are tough economic times we are living in and I recognize that we need the government to maintain our roads and our infrastructure."
Jones said he's not opposed to tax increases.
"I recognize that we as citizens have to pay taxes for services," he said. "However, when the economy picks up we need to take a look at how we tax people in the city," said Jones who lives in Northwest.
"If the District can do the job and not raise taxes and fees that's great," she said.
Brown said that the budget process reflects a city that's fiscally healthy.
"I look forward to moving forward with the budget process and continuing to work with my colleagues on the Council and the mayor on solutions that address the needs of District residents and build upon the city's current prosperity," he said.