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Gray Set to Unveil Budget

James Wright | , WI Staff Writer | 3/15/2012, 2:13 p.m.

D.C. residents will know in the next week the specifics of the District's FY 2013 budget when Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) releases the state of the city's finances to the D.C. Council first, and the public shortly after.

Gray, 69, is scheduled to send his budget to the D.C. Council for approval on March 23. He said that a lot of work has gone into crafting the document.

"We are still working on it and will probably release it at the 11th hour," the mayor said half-jokingly. "We are facing challenges with this budget situation."

Gray, who talked about the budget during his bi-weekly press conference on Wed., March 7 at the Department of Employment Services headquarters in Northeast, said that the city "is looking at about $115 million in budget reductions."

"We are far and away and at a different place from 1995," he said. At that time, the District was dealing with a $500 million shortfall and the U.S. Congress mandated a control board to exercise power over the District government's spending until 2001.

Gray mentioned the surprise surplus from late 2011 at the State of the District Address that he delivered on Tue., Feb. 7.

"The financial health of our city continues to improve and just recently we announced that we ended 2011 with one of the largest budget surpluses in our history - $240 million," he said.

The city's good financial standing however, has some residents questioning the wisdom and priorities of its leaders. The announcement of the $240 million surplus had business leaders who included D.C. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Barbara Lang demanding that the city give back the money which came as a result of the overpayment of taxes and fees, and community activists such as the Rev. Graylan S. Hagler arguing that excess city money should be used exclusively to help struggling Washingtonians.

Hagler is the pastor at Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ in Northwest.

D.C. Councilmember Michael Brown (I-At-Large) thinks Hagler has a point, although he acknowledges that any surplus according to city statutes is required to be directed to dedicated funds to keep the city solvent.

"We have to explain to D.C. residents that we have a $200 million surplus that we can't use," Brown, 46, said. "I am concerned that programs that help poor people will continue to be sliced."

Since the surplus was discovered, there have been differing views among city leaders on what the 2013 budget may possibly look like. There was a recent spat between Gray and Natwar Gandhi, the city's chief financial officer, on how much the District will take in during the next fiscal year.

Gandhi said that the city will accrue $71 million more than he originally forecast, and Gray wasn't happy about it.

"I am concerned that your revenue projections may be unrealistically low," the mayor wrote in a letter to Gandhi that became public on Wed., Feb. 29. "Although the numbers you provided me yesterday are positive, I am unclear that your modeling accurately incorporates the many positive trends currently underway in the District."