Streetlight Fee No More, and Other Budget Potpourri
This morning, D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray convened a press conference with 11 of his colleagues to go over their proposed markup changes to the FY2010 District budget. It was a standing-room-only affair, at least in the beginning, but as councilmember after councilmember rose to detail his or her recommendations, it got real tedious real fast. Be glad LL was there so you didn't have to be. Herewith, the highlights:
—Marion Barry showed up by 9:45 a.m.—by far the earliest LL has ever seen him in the John A. Wilson Building. He explained he had come straight from the airport, after flying in from Oakland, Calif., where he was attending a conference of the National Association of Black Public Administrators. Harry Thomas Jr., the only councilmember not to attend the briefing, remained there. In a strong voice, Barry explained how he "almost jumped out of...my chair" when he saw what the Fenty budget proposal did to charter facilities funding. "I called the chairman, said, 'Good afternoon; you got your $10 [million]."
—Streetlight Maintenance Fee looks to be gone. Jim Graham, Jack Evans, and Gray all committed to finding the $12 million to make the proposed electric-bill add-on go away.
—As previously mentioned, Emancipation Day will remain a public holiday.
—No Class 3 property-tax relief—for now. The controversial hike on vacant-property tax rates was widely expected to be expunged though the budget process, but Evans says the council will take up the matter after the budget process. Same goes for reform measures at the Board of Real Property Assessment Appeals—everyone agrees it's necessary, but not necessary to deal with in the budget.
—The council is moving to appoint an independent evaluator of the District's school reform package. Gray announced he's tapped the National Research Council, a subset of the National Academy of Sciences, to convene a panel to start evaluations come Oct. 1.
—The Office of Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs is back. So is the veterans affairs office.
—The council is providing $35 million in funding over four years for a UDC student center.
—The Rental Housing Commission is restored. Fenty had proposed abolishing it and letting D.C. Superior Court handle the cases it used to adjudicate. DCSC Chief Judge Lee Satterfield did not like that idea.
—Says Jim Graham, "We do have earmarks...but we have kept them to an absolute minimum." Wonder how many of them are for Ward 1.
—Evans says that when the new revenue projections are released in June (they've been delayed), he is expecting another shortfall, possibly in the range of $50 million. "We may have to revisit our budget and revise it downward," he says."
—Phil Mendelson says he was once again able to repel a proposed hike on the 911 fee added to phone bills. He also has restored funding for the Motor Vehicle Theft Commission and the D.C. National Guard, which was essentially being abolished by the Fenty administration. And Mendo's planning restore FY09 funding levels to a program that helps poor people hire attorneys, and he's planning to nix controversial reporting requirements, too.
—LL concluded the press conference by asking Gray if he was only exacerbating tension with the mayor by taking $10 million from a program he loves (summer jobs) and putting it into a program he doesn't love (charter schools). "It doesn't have anything to do about these last three weeks," he said, referring to the recent stretch of interbranch tensions.