The Washington Post

D.C. officials estimate $140 million operating surplus as fiscal year draws to close

Thanks to the hefty incomes of D.C. newcomers, the timely passing of a few wealthy residents, and thousands upon thousands of speeding-camera tickets, the District’s coffers are sitting pretty.

D.C. finance officials estimated Friday that, with two days remaining in its fiscal year, the D.C. government is running a nearly $140 million operating surplus.

In a letter Friday to top city officials, Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi said about one-third of the projected $139.5 million surplus is due to an estate tax “windfall,” with another third due to increases in income tax withholding.

Of the remainder, about half can be attributed to increased sales taxes, and the rest to $23 million in “automatic traffic enforcement” revenue — that is, speeding and red-light camera fines.

Despite the stronger-than-expected collections this fiscal year, Gandhi is not upgrading his revenue estimates for the next fiscal year, citing ongoing concerns about the potential effects of federal defense spending cuts.

A “double whammy” of severe federal cutbacks and the recession they would likely create, Gandhi wrote, “would almost certainly hurt the District’s economy and finances.” But if Congress can step away from the “fiscal cliff,” he added, “the revenue picture for the District would improve substantially.”

Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) said in a statement that the pending surplus “is affirmation that we are reaping the benefits of our investments in growing the District’s economy and getting our residents back to work.” He also called on Congress to “act quickly to prevent what everyone agrees is a completely unacceptable and destructive means of reducing the federal budget.”

Last fiscal year, audited figures showed that the city ran a $240 million surplus, leading Gray and council members to wonder why they had been forced to consider tax hikes and sometimes drastic spending cuts. Gray and Gandhi later clashed over what Gray called “unrealistically low” revenue estimates.

The new windfall has renewed calls to relieve the impact of prior cuts. D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) said the surplus could fund a list of 29 now-unfunded line items in the 2013 budget that goes into effect Monday.

The council identified those items — ranging from services for the homeless to housing assistance to additional firefighter recruits — as key priorities that could be funded with future increases in 2013 revenue estimates.

The 2013 projections remain stagnant, but Graham said the funding priorities “should now be triggered in some fashion” by the 2012 surplus.

But both Gray and Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) said the money will remain in the bank, in keeping with a recent law intended to bulk up the city’s savings.

The surplus represents about a 1.3 percent variance from the District’s anticipated $10.8 billion in 2012 spending. The final audited number for the current fiscal year won’t be available until late January or early February.

Mike DeBonis covers Congress and national politics for The Washington Post. He previously covered D.C. politics and government from 2007 to 2015.



Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
From clubfoot to climbing: Double amputee lives life of adventure
Learn to make traditional soup dumplings
Deaf banjo player teaches thousands
Play Videos
Unconventional warfare with a side of ale
The rise and fall of baseball cards
How to keep your child safe in the water
Play Videos
'Did you fall from heaven?': D.C.'s pick-up lines
5 ways to raise girls to be leaders
How much can one woman eat?
Play Videos
How to get organized for back to school
How to buy a car via e-mail
The signature drink of New Orleans

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.