Fair Budget Coalition Report Breaks New Ground

For the past seven years, the Fair Budget Coalition has been issuing annual reports aimed at promoting policies and programs that serve the needs of the District’s low-income residents. This year’s report represents the latest step in a major evolution of the Coalition’s advocacy.

Two years ago, the FBC report consisted almost entirely of spending recommendations–18 in all, plus four recommendations that would have reduced revenues and about a dozen “endorsements,” i.e., recommendations that didn’t make the final cut.

This in itself was a step forward. The 2007 report had even more spending recommendations–all equally weighted. A big menu, with no top choices.

Last year, the Coalition pared its recommendations back to nine. Only three of them called for additional spending, though several more would have involved administrative costs to implement. Both the latter and the true no-cost recommendations focused on improving agency leadership, accountability and processes for including residents whom safety net programs are supposed to serve.

Recognizing the budget crunch, the DC Fiscal Policy Institute and some other FBC members developed a separate, more diverse coalition to advocate for a balanced approach to budget balancing. DCFPI produced numerous options for the latter.

This year’s FBC report includes more “non-monetary” recommendations for policy and program improvements and two entire sections on revenue raisers. The latter propose not only some altogether reasonable local tax increases, but other ways of finding more funds.

Four specific recommendations for accessing more federal funding, plus a recommendation that the District ask Congress to modify federal rules that keep it from using its rainy day fund in this very rainy budget season. Ample explanations and justifications for all these.

Advocates have gotten a bad rap for always asking for more. This FBC report should quash that. It provides the Council with a range of options for balancing the budget without slashing safety net programs–and fodder for oversight to help ensure that the administration goes after federal funds it’s entitled to and uses its resources well.

The report also includes two excellent recommendations for ensuring that the Council makes responsible financial decisions, including one that would put some discipline into decisions on property tax abatements. Those who follow this blog know how I like that!

Add to all these a recommendation that the Council pass a prohibition against denying individuals publicly-subsidized housing or employment solely because they have a criminal record. This would, among other things, relieve pressures on safety net programs and potentially increase tax revenues.

Beyond the budget, the report makes recommendations to improve the District’s TANF program, its permanent supportive housing program and its deeply troubled emergency shelter system. These are primarily for the administration, but useful for oversight as well.

In short, I think the FBC report deserves a careful read both by our elected and appointed officials and by the rest of us who care about our community and how our tax dollars are spent.

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