DC Council passes budget after $1B coronavirus-related revenue drop

The D.C. Council met virtually for the entirety of the budget process which took months after the initial budget had to be amended for covid-related revenue losses. (Courtesy Council of DC)

After months of back and forth with the mayor, controversial additions and more contentious cuts, the D.C. Council approved a $8.5 billion budget for fiscal year 2021 Thursday night.

But what did it fund?

The Local Budget Act targeted money to public priorities of the moment, including violence interruption and alternative policing. It made investments in the REACH Act, hospitals and the mayor’s Vision Zero pedestrian safety initiative. It also met the mayor’s charge for the District to continue to work toward education and affordable housing goals.

“It was our position that a lot of programs and services got a haircut because of that $1.5 billion decrease in revenues, and those were necessary and tough decisions,” Bowser said of presenting a balanced budget to the council.

Bowser has long said that improving D.C. public schools is necessary for the District’s growth and competition with neighboring jurisdictions. The budget passed July 23 maintains a 3% increase in per-student funding. It put $3.2 million toward school-based mental health resources and $900,000 to the Office of the State Superintendent for early literacy intervention to ensure that kids are reading at grade level by third grade.

The budget enacted and funded the School Expenditure Transparency Amendment, which allows the public to see where public and charter schools spend their money. The amendment, Council Member David Grosso (D-At Large), the chair of the Education Committee, also makes public charter schools subject to the Open Meetings Act.

School security officers are no longer managed by the D.C. police but by D.C. Public Schools, a move that the mayor disagreed with.

An affordable housing voucher program, homeless outreach services and permanent supportive housing were funded by shifting $29.7 million by cutting tax breaks for corporations and tech companies.

“I’ll look more closely at the increased spending that the council decided on yesterday and I’ll keep an eye on what we might have to do should revenues go down again, based on an updated revenue estimate from the CFO,” Bowser said following the council’s unanimous vote approving the bill.

Among other provisions in the Council’s version of the budget were millions in additional funding, according to the council newsletter.

Among those provisions are:

  • The Housing Production Trust Fund
  • New affordable housing capacity via federal Section 108 Affordable Housing funds
  • Overdue repairs to public housing
  • Hundreds of additional Local Rent Supplement Program housing units for extremely low-income families
  • Eviction prevention and homeless services
  • A cash assistance program for excluded workers, including undocumented immigrants
  • Helping reverse the Mayor’s cuts to Behavioral Health rehabilitation programs
  • Student social/emotional learning (redirected from school security funds)
  • Violence interruption, restorative justice (funds redirected from the Metropolitan Police Department)
  • Full funding and implementation of the Racial Equity Achieves Real Change Act
  • Development of a racial equity tool/dashboard
  • Implementation of the Tipped Wage Worker Fairness Amendment Act
  • Enforcement of the Universal Paid Leave Act
  • Grants and programs supporting disadvantaged businesses
  • Restoring increased library hours and increased circulation

“The final remaining piece of the budget puzzle is the Budget Support Act, which includes all legislative changes embodied in the legislative process. It will receive its second of two needed approval votes at our next Legislative Meeting on July 28,” the council newsletter said.

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Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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