Budget Process Goes Forward, Awaits Mayor’s Signature

While the D.C. Council has passed the city’s 2020 fiscal budget, more of the process needs to take place before its official ratification.

On May 28, the council approved the $15.6 billion spending plan for the District and while areas existed where D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) had disagreements with their changes, the mayor expressed overall satisfaction with the budget.

“In our 24th consecutive balanced budget, we asked those who have prospered the most to share the upside,” Bowser said. “This budget is fair, just and bold. It reflects the needs of our city as a whole, invests in keeping D.C. affordable for families, seniors and longtime residents, and represents the values and priorities of our city. I am proud that with the council’s and the community’s support, we passed a budget that will give more Washingtonians a fair shot and support our shared priorities of keeping D.C. a diverse and inclusive city.”

Bowser had special praise for the students at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School, the District’s top secondary institution. The students scored a victory by having their campus moved from the old Euclid Street NW location to a new one in the Shaw neighborhood.

Meanwhile, Shaw Middle School will move to the Euclid location, which didn’t sit well with “Save Shaw” advocates.

“Of course, I also want to thank and congratulate the students from Benjamin Banneker High School who learned firsthand just how important our local budget process is,” Bowser said. “Banneker students showed up, made their voices heard, and I know that our community is proud of all they accomplished, in school and at the Wilson Building.”

There are issues that will continue to be debated such as the subsidy of the United Medical Center (UMC) that Council member Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7) wanted reduced from $40 million to $15 million. The council, with an amendment to the budget by Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8) and Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), added a combined $7 million to UMC, bringing the subsidy to $22 million, to Gray’s chagrin.

Bowser only got $116 million of the $130 million she sought for the Housing Production Trust to fund affordable housing projects, but she did get two controversial tax hikes for $114 million, with one on commercial property in the city and the other on mixed-used real estate transactions over $2 million.

When the budget was approved on May 28, Bowser came into the council room and shook hands with council members for getting this part of the process done.

This process, the Local Budget Act, has become known to most residents but there are other components as well.

Before Bowser can sign the budget, the document must go through a Budget Support Act (BSA). The BSA serves as the legislative vehicle for any changes to law that are necessary to implement the budget and the budget acts.

For example, the BSA may include adjustment to tax rates or modifications to the statutory mission of an agency. To be included in the BSA moved by the council, a subtitle must be germane to the budget and must be funded.
This process gets into the intimate details of the budget such as name or function changes that makes it come out balanced. The Local Budget Act and the BSA have to go through a congressional review period.

In addition, an instrument called the Budget Support Emergency Act, acts legislatively for time-sensitive provisions that are contained in the BSA.

The federal portion of the budget goes from the mayor to the president of the United States for inclusion in a federal appropriation act approved by Congress.

Meanwhile, the federal portion of the city’s budget are subject to the federal appropriations process that D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) handles.

Norton lauded a recent victory when the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriation Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government passed the fiscal year 2020 D.C. appropriations bill that contained no anti-home rule riders, no congressional appropriation of local funds, $40 million for the D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant Program and a $250,000 increase in the family income eligibility limit for the grant program.

“I am grateful to Subcommittee Chairman Mike Quigley [D-Ill.] and full committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey [D-N.Y.] for their continued support for D.C. home rule and for writing a historic bill that would, for the first time under the Home Rule Act of 1973, allow D.C. to spend its local funds without a congressional appropriation,” she said.

Norton noted that the House version contains no anti-home rule riders and it removed prohibitions on the District’s use of its local funds on abortion and on recreational marijuana commercialization. The bill allows the city to spend its local funds after the congressional review period like all other local bills, a first.

The council will meet in a special session to approve the BSA in either late June or early July and then send the budget to the mayor. As has long been tradition, Bowser will sign it and then Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) will send the local budget portion to Capitol Hill for the 30-day congressional review.

If there are no objections to the budget, it takes effect on Oct. 1

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