As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, the Chief Financial Officer for the District of Columbia expects that revenues for the just-ended fiscal year will be about $140 million higher than he earlier projected.
Mayor Gray has said that the whole $140 million should go into a reserve account. That’s what the law requires, but perhaps only if he sits on his hands.
As things stand now, he may because he’s put a top priority on building up savings — already totaling $1.1 billion — so that the District’s got a big stash it could use for some future emergency.
We’ve got emergencies staring us in the face. And if the CFO had projected the surplus earlier, the extra funds would have been used to address those that the Mayor and DC Council agreed were most urgent.
That’s also the law — specifically, the Fiscal Year 2013 Budget Support Act, which includes a list of programs that would get more funding (and the amounts they’d get) if revenue projections before the tail end of the fiscal year indicated that the needed revenues were available.
Top of the list is $7 million to make up for federal funds that the District had used for homeless services, but didn’t expect to have in this new fiscal year.
Next on the list are funds for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
Some would provide more money for job training, counseling and other services participating parents need. Another portion would delay until next October the cuts in benefits for families who’ve been in the program for more than five years.
These families surely ought to have a chance to benefit from the improved training, counseling, etc. before they’re penalized for not finding work that pays enough to lift them above the TANF income eligibility ceiling.
Also near the top of the list are funds to partly restore those that the Mayor, with the Council’s approval, shifted out of the Housing Production Trust Fund — the main source of local funding for creating and preserving affordable housing here.
So the (relative) well-being of thousands of District residents hinges on a legal technicality. The Mayor could easily resolve it by asking the Council for a one-time, partial exception to the use of end-of-year surplus revenues.
Or the Mayor and Council might find funds for the top-of-list priorities elsewhere. Councilmember Jim Graham, after all, found $14 million in unspent child welfare funds. The audits that are always done at the end of a fiscal year may well turn up more unspent funds.
The source doesn’t matter. A firm commitment to fund these priorities does — and a commitment not to have funding for basic human needs like shelter, housing and cash for kids’ clothes on some extra revenue “wish list” in the future.
Or, for that matter, adequate funding for other anti-poverty programs like relevant job training and supportive services, e.g., affordable, high-quality child care, mental health counseling.
Which is why we need to exert some grassroots pressure on the Mayor and Council.
The Fair Budget Coalition has an editable e-mail we can send to let them know that we want some portion of the surplus spent on the top priorities — and longer-term commitments that ensure we don’t keep having these preventable emergencies.
As I remarked before, the Mayor and Council could fund the priorities and still have plenty of surplus revenues to put in the bank. Their choice, but we can help them make it.