The D.C. Council unanimously approved a $13.9 billion city budget Tuesday, capping months of debate about how to use newly abundant tax dollars to remedy a growing gap between haves and have-nots in the nation’s capital.
The budget, which will take effect Oct. 1, represents a 3.7 percent increase over the current spending plan of $13.4 billion.
Tuesday’s vote was the second and final vote on the bulk of the next fiscal year’s budget, after a preliminary vote in May. Since then, the council had made only modest tweaks to its spending plan, such as restoring several million dollars to the D.C. streetcar project and to a fund for the development of renewable energy.
The budget will go to Congress for review. Although D.C. leaders claim the right to set their local budget under a 2013 voter referendum, the GOP-controlled Congress may ultimately impose restrictions on funding for certain local laws it finds objectionable, including legalized marijuana and assisted suicide.
Spending deliberations by council members and Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) were less dramatic and contentious than in some years past. The most heated debates were over education funding — which the council increased above the level originally proposed by the mayor — and whether to delay scheduled tax cuts and devote the money instead to social programs.
Perhaps the least expected flash point was a wide-ranging proposal by the mayor, in legislation accompanying the budget, to revise the District’s animal-control laws. The new regulations would have included a ban on backyard chickens, licensing of all cats and a requirement that dog feces be removed from private yards within 24 hours.
The proposed animal rules faced intense opposition from D.C. residents, however, and were rejected by council members.
Bowser touted her budget proposal under the theme of “inclusive prosperity” — her administration’s avowed goal of helping those left behind by the District’s economic growth.
However, activists and social-service providers — as well as some council members — questioned whether the budget devoted enough money to problems such as underperforming schools and rampant homelessness.
Council member Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) said Tuesday that the theme of greater opportunity “did not match the content of the budget, because it did nothing to address the tremendous disparities that still exist in our city.”
In addition to what he said was inadequate spending on public education, Gray — a former one-term mayor who lost his seat to Bowser in 2014 — said Bowser has not devoted enough time or attention to building a new hospital in Southeast Washington, a project that has been stalled for years as the city tries to find a private-sector partner.
Bowser, who is up for reelection in 2018, said in a statement that her original budget proposal was “a reflection of our residents’ input and advances our commitment to D.C. values and inclusive prosperity.”
She also praised the revised budget approved by the council, which she said “will advance our efforts to improve the quality of life for residents in all eight wards.”