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Bowser Admin Chides D.C. Council’s Budget Cuts

The senior leadership of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration are not happy about cuts that the city council are contemplating as the 2019-2020 budget season winds down.

On May 6, D.C. City Administrator Rashad Young, Jenny Reed, the D.C. director of the Office of Budget and Performance, Tomas Talamante, Bowser’s deputy chief of staff, and Brian Kenner, the deputy mayor for planning and economic development, talked to the reporters about their gripes about changes that the council has made to Bowser’s proposal she submitted nearly two months ago.

The council will vote on the first reading of the budget on May 14 and the second and final reading will take place on May 28.

“We respect the council’s role in the budget process,” Young said. “However, we are worried about changes that affect our most vulnerable residents.”

Young did most of the talking and he expressed concern about an $8.5 million cut to the Housing Production Trust Fund in the form of a diversion to D.C. Housing Authority housing voucher programs. Fifteen percent of the District’s collection of the deed recordation and deed transfer tax revenue generally goes to the trust fund, but that will not be the case this year if the council has its way.

Young said the funding of housing vouchers isn’t wise because “the source needs to be stable and consistent” and he argues that the deed taxes are not.

“These vouchers take a while to be used,” he said.

Young noted that the Committee on Health, chaired by Council member Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7) reduces the United Medical Center’s (UMC) operating subsidy from $40 million to $15 million and eliminates $7.5 million in capital funds.

“The committee has no way of having a full understanding of what the reductions in the subsidy will mean for UMC, but it will certainly lead to immediate service reductions and layoffs,” he said.

The UMC is the only full-service hospital east of the Anacostia River and receives public funds. Plans are in the works for a new, state-of-the-art hospital on the St. Elizabeths East campus but it has been stonewalled by its controversial manager, Universal Health Services, which operates the George Washington University Hospital, for reasons such as labor disputes, schemes to pay for the new facility and Howard University’s Medical School’s desire to have doctor and student practicing rights there.

Young said the UMC should be fully funded to let his team “complete our work securing a new operator and submit a plan to the council for public review about the new facility.”

One of the most popular moves Bowser made this year had to do with the Circulator, the city’s free bus service. The mayor wants to the bus service to remain free of charge for everyone but Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), chair of the council’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment, has publicly rejected that idea and questioned whether the $3.1 million needed to keep the service free is cost-effective.

“Since the free Circulator program begin in February, we have seen a significant uptick in usage, with 20,000 more riders in February and 77,000 more in March compared to the same months last year,” Young said. “More riders on the Circulator means fewer cars on the road, which has numerous benefits.”

Young also bemoaned the council’s proposal to eliminate the child care affordable tax credit, increase residential parking permit fees and raise the sales tax on sweetened beverages. He also said actions such as cutting $2.1 million in funding for the Neighborhood Prosperity Fund will hinder the city’s efforts to attract full-service grocery stores to Wards 7 and 8.

Young said he and his staff will continue to engage council members and the general public about its budget proposal.

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