Bowser’s First Budget Gets Mixed Reviews

by: James Wright Special to the AFRO
/ D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (Image via D.C. Mayor's Office) /
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D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced her budget proposal on April 2. (Image via D.C. Mayor’s Office)

 

The mayor of the District released her first budget plan, and residents and politicians are quick to offer their assessment. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) presented her plan, titled “Pathways to the Middle Class” on April 2 to the public and the D.C. Council. Bowser said her proposed Fiscal Year 2016, $12-billion budget is designed to meet the needs of residents and take care of the city’s fiscal priorities.

“My administration has prided itself on being inclusive and transparent in the budget process,” Bowser said. “The budget will allocate funds where they are most needed, provide necessary improvements around the city, and create new opportunities for D.C. residents.”

Bowser’s budget, in essence, closes the projected $193 million gap. Some specifics include allocating $100 million for the city’s Housing Production Trust Fund, paying for body cameras for all police officers, and funding the streetcar line from Benning Road in Northeast heading west to Georgetown in Northwest. To help pay for her budget, Bowser wants to increase the sales tax from 5.75 percent to 6 percent, increase taxes on parking and electronic cigarettes, cut the budget of the University of the District of Columbia by 5 percent, and reduce Medicaid reimbursements.

The mayor said she and her staff acted on recommendations received from residents during the budget engagement meetings earlier this year. However, Ronald Williams, a political activist in Ward 8, said that based on her budget plan, the mayor misunderstood what residents wanted.

“The mayor’s plan looks like an assault on the middle class,” he said. “She has raised the sales tax and that will affect the middle class adversely. Unemployment is up east of the [Anacostia] River and she needs to have a jobs plan in her proposal.”

Jose Cunningham, the chairman of the D.C. Republican Party, said his party members will fight the tax increases. “While a sales tax increase may be a seemingly 8 Deaths in Home Bring Scrutiny of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning “I’m just numb. Like it’s a nightmare but it’s not.” – Tyisha Luneice Chambers minor issue for those who are economically [upper] middle class and above, even the slightest increase in taxes can have a huge impact on lower middle-class and working poor families,” Cunningham said. “It is unfortunate that the mayor now must resort to increasing costs for anyone making a purchase in the District. Why can’t she find alternate funding in a nearly $13 billion budget?”

The D.C. Council must approve Bowser’s budget proposal. The mayor will go into more detail about her budget during an April 13 briefing and the council, for about eight weeks afterward, will conduct a review of it with agency leaders and make the changes that it sees fit.

The budget will be submitted to the mayor for approval and when that occurs, it is transmitted to the Congress by the end of June. Bowser and D.C. City Administrator Rashad Young will be in close consultation with council members throughout the process.

Silas Grant, who is chairman of the Ward 5 Democrats, likes Bowser’s idea of funding body cameras for police officers. “I think it will have a positive impact on policing because if body cameras had been in place a lot of behavior by police officers would not have gotten out of line,” Grant said. “It is a step in the right direction.”

Some D.C. public schools, such as Wilson Senior High School in Ward 3, will have financial reductions. Wilson will have $1.8 million less than in the previous fiscal year despite the fact that it is the District’s largest high school in terms of enrollment. That has outraged the school’s parents and supporters.

D.C. Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) sent a letter to D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson on March 26 regarding the school. “This cut will leave Wilson with insufficient staff to manage almost 1,900 teenagers,” Cheh said. “It will also endanger the school’s continued success and jeopardize its efforts to bridge the achievement gap.”

Will Thomas, a former advisory neighborhood commissioner and political activist in Ward 3, agrees with Cheh. “The mayor’s cuts will adversely [affect] the resources that the staff at Wilson needs to do their jobs, and it will affect the needs of the students,” Thomas said.

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