A harried but unanimous D.C. Council on Tuesday gave preliminary approval to the city’s $16.7 billion budget for fiscal 2021 after several hours of debate on tax policy and some tension among lawmakers on the process.
Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, made public his budget proposal Monday afternoon, 15 hours before the council was to vote on it.
Mr. Mendelson and his colleagues were visibly frustrated Tuesday amid the rush to circulate amendments, including one that would end the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) contract for officers at public schools.
Included in the council’s budget is $50 million for repairing public housing and $5 million for Events DC’s undocumented workers cash assistance program. The budget would cut MPD funding by $15 million, which will result in a decrease of about 200 officers.
Mr. Mendelson included a 3% tax on advertising sales, a 10-cent increase on gas taxes and a reduction in a tax incentive for large technology companies.
In a letter to the council, Mayor Muriel Bowser listed concerns she had with the council’s budget, including cuts to the MPD budget, the removal of her expansion plan for the MPD cadet program and the increase in taxes.
“As none of the committees have made this recommendation, and as the Chief Financial Officer predicts that the District will face uncertain times for two years, it would be foolhardy to raise taxes this year,” Miss Bowser said in her letter.
The chairman asked his colleagues to hold off on other measures that would generate revenue, out of concern that revenues would fall later in the year due to the public health crisis.
Council member Brianne Nadeau, Ward 1 Democrat, said she was “flabbergasted” by Mr. Mendelson’s request.
“It seems you’re fine doing tax policy at the dais, but only if the money goes where you want it to go,” Ms. Nadeau said.
Council member Charles Allen, Ward 6 Democrat, introduced an amendment that would delay a tax break to publicly traded corporations for five years, generating about $7.4 million a year. The council approved the amendment and decided to allocate it funds at a later vote.
Council member Trayon White, Ward 8 Democrat, introduced an amendment that would reduce the amount of money high-income residents can exempt from their estate taxes, which would produce $1.7 million to be directed to services to help children impacted by violence.
During discussion on the amendment, which was approved, Mr. Mendelson admonished Mr. White for not having the most updated copy of the legislation and circulating it in the early hours of the morning.
“I dare say no one was at their computer” when this was circulated at 12:45 a.m., Mr. Mendelson said.
Council member Elissa Silverman, at-large independent, read aloud an email from a constituent commenting on the back-and-forth among lawmakers and the process.
“This is crazy,” the email read.
The lawmakers also approved council member David Grosso’s amendment to transfer the public school security officer contract from the control of the police department to D.C. public schools.
Mr. Grosso, at-large independent, said his amendment wasn’t a political move resulting from recent protests on policing. He said his amendment emerged from public hearings with young people, who told him they don’t have good relationships with security guards and are scared of the police.
The council approved the Fiscal Year 2021 Budget Support Act of 2020 and Fiscal Year 2021 Local Budget Act of 2020 in the Committee of the Whole markup meeting and later Tuesday voted on it for its first vote in a full council meeting.
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