DC Coalition Reacts to Mayor’s Proposed Budget

March 26, 2009

The Coalition for Community Investment has come out in cautious support of D.C. Mayor Fenty’s proposed Fiscal Year 2010 budget.

CCI praises the Mayor for following its general principles for budget decision-making, saying that his budget:

  • Shows a commitment to protecting critical investments needed “at this time to ensure the stability and safety of city residents and neighborhoods.”
  • “Makes a strong effort to avoid cuts in service wherever possible.”
  • Reflects an effort to raise revenues, rather than trying to balance the budget by funding cuts alone.

At the same time, CCI notes that the proposed reduction in District-funded staff positions is “quite large” and says that a more detailed analysis will be needed to determine the potential impact on services.

In other words, we simply don’t know at this point whether the District can, as the Mayor has testified, continue moving forward on the delivery of critical services when about 1,300 positions are due to be cut.

CCI also expresses concerns about the Mayor’s proposal to eliminate the cost-of-living increases in three personal income tax provisions, saying that these “would disproportionately affect low- and middle-income residents.” It would like to see alternative revenue raisers that have less impact on those who are least able to afford them.

What these might be it doesn’t say. But, as I wrote awhile ago, it offered the Mayor and City Council numerous specific suggestions.

CCI says it looks forward to learning how the proposed budget “will help stimulate job growth, strengthen local businesses and support neighborhoods and families during the economic downturn.”

So do I. And, frankly, I’m not at all certain that the proposed budget represents the best that can be done to meet the urgent needs of the District’s growing low-income population. I suspect many CCI members aren’t either.

Let’s hope that the City Council asks lots of good questions at the upcoming budget hearings.


How to Balance the DC Budget

March 7, 2009

Like state and local governments across the country, the District of Columbia is confronting a large budget gap for FY 2010. The Chief Financial Officer now says that revenues will fall $800 million short of earlier projections. Even if the city uses what will remain in federal stimulus funding, it will still have an estimated $425 million gap to close.

When a shortfall in the current budget was first projected, the City Council addressed it solely by reducing expenditures. Nearly 50% of the reductions were cutbacks in programs that serve the District’s homeless and other low-income residents.

These essential safety net programs are highly vulnerable to further cutbacks. They will be especially so if the Mayor and City Council choose to balance the FY 2010 budget by cutbacks alone. They have another option–a prudent mix of cutbacks and revenue expansions.

This is what the Coalition for Community Investment recommended in its principles for collaborative budget decision-making.

Now CCI has followed up by offering D.C. policymakers a range of savings and revenue-raising options that would not overly burden hard-pressed residents, businesses or the local economy.

They include:

  • Actions that will generate savings or additional revenues without any changes in tax rates or fees
  • Changes in tax legislation that would not increase rates
  • Expanding the base of existing taxes to capture additional revenue from high-income residents and out-of-town visitors
  • Increasing select fees that are disproportionately low compared to those in neighboring jurisdictions
  • Raising taxes on cigarettes, commercial parking and/or alcohol sold for off-premises consumption
  • Establishing a new top income tax rate for high-income families–here again aligning District revenue raisers more closely with those in nearby communities

CCI has given the Mayor and City Council thoughtful, expert advice on how to balance the budget while preserving critical investments in programs that expand local economic opportunity and support D.C. families–including those whose hardships are greatest.

What’s needed now is grassroots support to make sure the decision-makers listen. CCI has a suggested message on its website, along with the Mayor’s e-mail address. Contact information for City Council members is in the Council’s online directory.

DC Safety Net Programs Face New Threat

January 6, 2009

An editorial in yesterday’s Washington Post calls on Mayor Fenty and the D.C. City Council to protect safety net programs for the District’s homeless and other poor residents.

The piece focuses on the fate of revenues that will be raised by a just-passed increase in parking meter rates. The Council intended these revenues to restore some of the funds it cut from safety net programs when it re-balanced the budget in November. But the District is now facing a new projected shortfall. So the Post rightly foresees that the Council may use the parking meter revenues to help close the budget gap instead.

As the Post says, a broad-based coalition of D.C. businesses, faith-based groups, nonprofits, labor and advocacy organizations has argued that cutbacks in safety net programs could increase cases of acute hardship and, with them, demands on costly emergency services.

The coalition’s statement of budget principles also points out that investments in programs that serve low-income residents will help jump-start local economic recovery and thus expand economic opportunities for both local businesses and D.C. residents.

The Mayor and City Council would do well to assess the actual costs of further cutbacks and all possible options. Coalition members have offered to partner in this effort. The Mayor and City Council should bring them into the decision-making process.

Broad-Based Coalition Calls for Collaborative Budget-Making

December 18, 2008

A large, diverse coalition of organizations has issued a set of principles for decision-making on the D.C. budget. Both the coalition itself and the action it has taken reflect widespread concern about potential budget cuts that could retard local economic recovery and increase hardships for low-income D.C. families.

The 100+ organizations came together, as the Coalition for Community Investment, in response to recent budget cuts in “safety net” programs like affordable housing, homeless services, health care and TANF. Such cuts, it says, can be “pennywise and pound foolish” because they reduce residents’ buying power, expand cases of acute hardship and increase needs for more costly emergency services.

The coalition calls instead for prudent public investments that will expand economic opportunity and support the well-being of families. It suggests these can be made, even in these tough times. The key is an open, inclusive decision-making process that allows interested community members to contribute their practical know-how, technical expertise and experience.

The statement of principles is a very constructive first step to what could be a whole new day in D.C. budget-making. Let’s hope the Mayor and the City Council act on the guidance it provides.