Gray's Budget Reflects Priorities East of the River

James Wright | 4/4/2012, 11:43 a.m.

Barry Disappointed with Human Services Cuts

The city budget recently released by the mayor of the District has received praise for its fiscal stability and closing a $172.1 million budget gap while its cuts in human services are being criticized for being insensitive to those who are in need. However, observers have noted that it's generous to the eastern portion of the city.

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) presented his budget to members of the D.C. Council and to the public on Friday, March 23. The budget closed a $172.1 million deficit between revenues and expenses without raising taxes or fees and without dipping into the city's reserve fund.

"This budget continues to fund my administration's top priorities - education, public safety and jobs and economic development - while respecting the fiscal discipline required to safeguard those services for the future," Gray, 69, said. "We had to make difficult choices, but we believe this budget maintains the right level of government services, including protecting our most vulnerable citizens, without raising taxes."

D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) disagrees.

"We are balancing the budget on the backs of the poor," Barry, 76, said. "I am disappointed in this budget and I have known Vince Gray a long time. Human services are not funded enough."

Barry, a former four-term mayor of the District, lamented the cuts in human services, which would affect his ward more heavily than others. Gray's budget would cut $14.7 million in Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and $23 million from the D.C. Healthcare Alliance, where many low-income and working-class residents get their health coverage.

Other cuts include programs such as rental assistance [$19.9 million], homeless services [$7.7 million], victim services [$2.6 million] and affordable housing initiatives [$2.9 million]. Despite the cuts, Gray said that his budget "looks at investment on the east end of the city."

Gray pointed out that there is money for construction on Ballou Senior High School in Southeast, a $28 million upgrade of the Office of Unified Communications on the east side of Saint Elizabeths and $58 million of capital infrastructure investments on Saint Elizabeths east side, which is also being planned as an information technology hub.

D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown (D) said that he's pleased the budget includes an upgrade for the Dr. John Hayden Johnson Middle School in Ward 8.

"It is important that we modernize our middle schools and I am happy that the mayor recognized that Johnson Middle School will need that," Brown, 41, said. "Good schools in Ward 8 will keep families in Ward 8."

In last year's budget, Gray cut funding of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Northwest, forcing the central library to close on Sundays. However, he changed course when additional monies became available and the public demanded that the facility remain open seven days a week. George Williams, a spokesman for the D.C. Public Library system, said that money is in the budget and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library will remain open on Sundays.

Gray has added another branch of the library - Rosedale - which will be located at 17th and Benning Road in Northeast.

The Skyland Town Center in Southeast will be a part of a citywide $54 million development package, in the mayor's budget.

A lot of attention has focused on the proposal to allow restaurants and bars that serve liquor to stay open until 3 a.m. on weekdays and 4 a.m. on weekends, but few of those are located in eastern Washington. There has also been a great deal of discussion about Gray's idea of installing traffic cameras at every corner that could generate $24.8 million for the city.

The mayor's budget must be approved by the D.C. Council. Changes will be forthcoming, Brown said. The D.C. Council has 56 days to review Gray's budget, make its changes and submit to the mayor before it has to be approved by the U.S. Congress.

"It is now the Council's responsibility to act," Brown said.