DC budget battle heats up over fund for early childhood educators

A political battle is heating up over D.C.’s budget, leading Mayor Muriel Bowser to publicly call out the city’s chief financial officer.

In her recently proposed budget plan, Bowser recommended cutting the Early Childhood Educator Pay Equity Fund, which subsidizes pay for day care and preschool teachers.

Bowser said she proposed the cut due to a demand from Chief Financial Officer Glen Lee, who said $217 million would need to be added to the city’s reserve funds due to the possibility of inadequate cash flow later this decade.

During a Monday news conference, however, Bowser said she believes Lee is “wrong.”

“I think that the chief financial officer is wrong on the law,” Bowser said. “And he’s wrong just on the common-sensical decisions that have to be made now versus five years from now.”

Bowser’s comments followed written remarks by D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, who said in a newsletter that he would fight back against the proposed cuts to the Pay Equity Fund when he releases his revisions to Bowser’s budget plan at the end of May.

“The budget I present will restore most, if not all, of the Pay Equity Fund, and do so by rejecting the Chief Financial Officer’s insistence that $217 million needs to be added to the District’s already-robust reserve funds,” Mendelson said in the newsletter. “I will not comply.”

After Mendelson releases his budget revisions, the D.C. Council will formally consider the budget.

“The Pay Equity Fund will be restored and the reserves will be fully funded over the next four years,” Mendelson said. “The CFO exceeded his authority when he told the mayor and me that the reserves need to be topped-off now.”

Lee has indicated that if $217 million is not added to the city’s reserve funds, he will refuse to support or certify the overall budget plan.

When Bowser was asked whether she would ultimately support a budget that didn’t have Lee’s stamp of approval, she wouldn’t give a straight yes or no answer.

“On the question of certification, I think it is unfortunate that that question even has to be asked,” Bowser said. “We don’t know what our revenues are going to be five years from now, so having us gut programs that we think are effective to balance a budget five years from now, I don’t think is appropriate.”

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Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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