Tomorrow, members of the D.C. Council will start completing their annual budget ritual, gathering at 1 p.m. around a big table in a smallish John A. Wilson Building conference room to hash out which priorities will get funded and which ones will not.
It’s a quasi-transparent process. The bull sessions are open to members of the media and will be televised on Channel 13. Things get murkier when the meetings end, and it’s left to Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) and staff to meld the discussions into a cohesive, solvent budget that accommodates his colleagues’ desires.
The end product will, if history is any guide, be delivered to council members and their staffs sometime in the wee hours before the first budget vote next Tuesday.
That practice has been problematic in the past, giving members — not to mention the public — a few scant hours to look over the final budget deal before voting. Memorably, in 2010, a late decision to cut streetcar funding turned into a big political headache for then-Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D).
One activist group is renewing its call for more transparency in the process — that is, allowing more time for the public to review what will be voted on. The D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute asked Brown in a letter delivered Monday that he release copies of the budget legislation at least 24 hours before a vote.
In the letter, DCFPI’s Elissa Silverman acknowledged progress last year under Brown in getting budget information more quickly. But 24 hours of advance time would be a much bigger improvement.
In an interview Tuesday evening, Brown said he would get the budget dealings out as soon as possible, but he said he “can’t fully commit” to a 24-hour deadline when the process is certain to involve eleventh-hour dealmaking.
“We’re going to do everything we can to get that to the public in 24 hours, but I can’t make that strong commitment if we’re still going to be negotiating to the last minute,” Brown said. “It’s very difficult to do, especially when we’re trying to squeeze every penny we can for the people who need it the most.”