The District’s new budget is beginning to take shape this week, as D.C. Council committee chairs tweak Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s $10.8 billion spending plan.
The most dramatic changes proposed thus far have have come from Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), chair of the public works and transportation panel. He wants to add about $6.2 million to the District’s Metro subsidy, which would help maintain bus and rail service in the city in the face of a Metro shortfall. A $1.1 million boost to the city transportation department would keep Circulator bus fares at $1, rather than the $2 proposed by Gray, and $2 million in capital funding would add 40 new stations to the wildly popular Capital Bikeshare network.
Also “sweepercams” — cameras mounted on Department of Public Works street sweepers that identify drivers who don’t obey weekly parking restrictions — would be preserved, for $300,000.
The money comes from unspent funds and two other initiatives. Tickets for those illegally park in residential zones now carry a $30 fine, but Wells recommends increasing that to $60 for any vehicle that has already has earned two such tickets in a calendar year. Much of the rest would come from an increase in the price of residential parking permits, which currently cost $15 per car. Gray has proposed raising the price to $25; but Wells goes farther, suggesting that a household’s first permit cost $35, with the second permit costing $50 and additional permits priced at $100 each. (Residents 65 and over would pay $25.)
Other council members have tweaked their agencies’ budgets to fund their own priorities. Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) is proposing to use $200,000 from the city technology office to “support programs to expand access to healthy foods in low-income neighborhoods.” Cheh also is proposing to continue a freeze on city employee salaries and bonuses. Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), chair of the committee on Libraries, Parks and Recreation, wants to shift $500,000 in capital funding from a planned renovation of the Cleveland Park Neighborhood Library, in Ward 3, to a redo of the Lamond-Riggs branch
in her home ward. (Lamond-Riggs is in Ward 5, but it’s only about 50 feet from the boundary of Ward 4, many of whose residents use the library. ) Bowser, who is standing for re-election next year, also asks the D.C. Public Library to study placing a library at a new development at Riggs Road and South Dakota Avenue NE, and wants the parks department to consider a new park or recreation center for the soon-to-be-vacated Walter Reed site — both are in Ward 4.
The recommendations are subject to passage by each committee, and then they could again be modified by the full council. But committee chairs are typically granted wide latitude in setting their agencies’ budgets, and the markups are generally a formality.
Still unclear is precisely how D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) will avoid the 0.2-point increase on high earners’ income taxes Gray has proposed but Brown has pledged to eliminate. The council will take its initial vote on the budget on May 25; the new budget will take effect on Oct. 1.