The Washington Post

District’s $9.4B budget: Less health care for the poor, more traffic cameras

Mayor Vincent C. Gray, shown in January, released his proposed budget Friday. (Matt McClain/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Drivers in the District could pay an additional $30 million in traffic camera fines and low-income residents would see a $23 million cut in health care coverage under a budget proposal unveiled Friday by Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D).

The Gray proposal includes no new fees or taxes but includes a number of proposals to generate an additional $69.4 million worth of revenue to combat a budget gap estimated at $172 million.

Perhaps most controversial will be a proposal to deploy new automated “traffic calming initiatives” that would generate $30.6 million in fine revenue. That surge would be offset by the $5.8 million cost of expanding the automated enforcement program.

Expansion of “performance parking” is anticipated to general to bring in an additional $3.3 million in new fees and fines.

(LIVE TWEETS: It’s budget day in D.C.)

While the increasing use of speeding and red-light cameras has vexed drivers and the AAA, they have been hailed by resident groups frustrated by commuter traffic speeding through their neighborhoods.

Budget documents indicate that the new traffic measures could include the deployment of “speed-on-green” cameras that could catch drivers zooming though intersections and new laser-equipped cameras that could operate in tunnels. Gray is also proposing pilot enforcement programs targeting pedestrians and drivers who “block the box.”

Gray is also proposing to allow alcohol sales until as late as 4 a.m. on weekends, providing an additional $5.3 million in sales tax revenue. The plan would allow bars to remain open till 3 a.m. on weekdays and 4 a.m. on weekends -- one hour later that presently in each case.

Package liquor stores could open as early as 7 a.m., and a special regime would be established for the week surrounding upcoming presidential inaugurations. Bars that purchase a special permit would be able to remain open until 4 a.m. any day; permitted restaurants could serve alcohol 24 hours during the period.

He is also proposing to scale back planned rises in tax deductions and exemptions, which would result in higher income and property tax bills for city residents -- $12 million in total. More thorough collection of existing taxes is expected to generate $28.2 million.

The $103 million in cuts proposed by Gray appear to fall most heavily on health and human services programs. The largest single cut is a $23 million reduction in benefits to residents enrolled in the D.C. Healthcare Alliance program, which covers low-income residents not eligible for Medicaid.

Under the Gray proposal, the Alliance would cover “primary and preventative care only.” Hospitalizations would no longer be covered. Gray is also proposing to slash Medicaid reimbursement rates by $8 million.

The Alliance cuts came under immediate criticism from D.C. Council member David A. Catania, chairman of the health committee, who called the cut “short-sighted” and proposed instead cutting back pension benefit growth.

Gray touted his plan’s $86 million hike in schools funding and a $20 million increase in police funding that would maintain a force of 3,900 sworn officers.

The budget gap was initially estimated at $115 million, but increased school enrolment estimates and “additional required Medicaid” funding have boosted the number to $172 million.

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