NO. 1 ON D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s list of things to do with $92.3 million in additional revenue for next year was to address some of the deficiencies in a program that provides child-care subsidies to the working poor. It was the right call by Mr. Gray (D), and we were glad to see the D.C. Council agree when it gave final approval to a budget that largely makes responsible use of the city’s surplus.
The fiscal 2014 budget approved by the council Wednesday includes $11 million to help low-income parents obtain continuous child care so that they can work or go to school. An additional 200 slots will be created for infant and toddler care, and the voucher subsidy rate, last adjusted in 2004, will receive a 10 percent boost. Both are badly needed improvements in a program that has been besieged with problems.
A devastating portrait by The Post’s Brigid Schulte revealed how parents, many of them single mothers, have to line up for hours and endure a humiliating process to apply for vouchers. Not only does it waste time and taxpayer money, but it is also counterproductive to the program’s worthwhile goals of helping needy families get on their feet and secure good child care. Improvements — additional locations, less-hostile conditions and streamlined processes — are still needed, but Wednesday’s vote was a good start that represents a down payment on the administration’s promise of reform.
Also welcome was the council’s decision — and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) deserves kudos here — to use some of the District’s swelling revenue for tax relief. The vote to roll back the sales tax from 6 percent to 5.75 percent — the level in 2009 when budget shortfalls caused an increase to the current rate — will result in the District having a rate lower than those in neighboring Virginia and Maryland. Council members who pushed instead for cuts to residents’ income taxes raised valid points about wanting to bring the greatest benefits to D.C. residents. But it’s prudent that the council await recommendations of a tax revision commission headed by former mayor Anthony A. Williams. The council reserved money from next year’s projected surplus to help finance any tax cuts that might be suggested.
Similarly, the council was right not to spend the city’s windfall on a hasty proposal by council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) to adjust the per-pupil spending formula in public schools; more analysis is needed and a study is underway by the administration. In approving new investments in school technology, school-based mental health and adult literacy — not to mention funds to allow all D.C. students to ride Metro buses for free — the mayor and council showed that education continues to be a top priority of the city.