There are some budget shenanigans going on in D.C., which should come as no surprise since many on the Council plan to run for higher office or are up for reelection.
The Council’s role is to pass a budget and do oversight of city agencies. When four members of the Council who chair committees have announced they are looking at running for mayor next year, then things can get a little crazy.
As of last week, Muriel Bowser, chair of the Economic Development Committee, and Tommy Wells, chair of the Public Safety Committee, have officially announced plans to run. Wells apparently finished his listening tour. At-large Council member David Catania, the Education Committee chair and Ward 2 Representative Jack Evans, Finance Committee chair, have also indicated interest in higher office.
Bowser moved to take money from the Deputy Mayor’s Office for Economic Development, which may lead to some projects not being monitored. She has also recommended refunding the Neighborhood Investment Trust (NIF) which former Mayor Fenty and others agreed wasn’t needed. It has been said she is taking some of this money from the mayor’s proposed $15 million One City Fund for non-profits. This is the fund that would allow small non-profits to apply for grants and it would be administered by the non-political Community Trust. The NIF that Bowser wants to refund would put money back into the realm of political manipulation. There are hundreds of non-profits across the District that see the One City Fund proposed by the mayor as their salvation. Many don’t fit current agency guidelines for funds and don’t have the manpower to fill out some of the very detailed applications that large agencies are required to fill out for big money. With this new fund, small HIV/AIDS, education, housing and others groups could apply for competitive grants of up to $100,000, small in terms of the big picture, but enough to keep them functioning and serving their clients.
Catania appears to be moving us back to the politicization of the schools that Mayor Fenty moved us away from. School reform placed the control of education policy and approved funding in the hands of the mayor’s office and the chancellor who was confirmed by the Council. They are responsible for moving reform ahead. Since reestablishing the Education Committee instead of leaving it as a Committee of the Whole, we see the committee trying to decimate the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education and putting in jeopardy programs they are helping to plan and monitor. If the committee gets its way, the Council must be prepared to assume the blame when things don’t go as they hoped. Fights over issues like foreign language or arts initiatives shouldn’t be determined by who can get to their Council member first.
Council member Jim Graham continues to fight for TANF funding for families beyond the five-year maximum and in many ways instead of helping people become independent he is giving them more ways to remain dependent on government. He is attempting to micromanage the Human Service budget. The Council is also drafting some new initiatives, calling them competitive grants, but writing them in a way that is simply providing earmarks for favored groups.
Council member Orange is looking to get $100,000 more, for a total of $350,000, for his favorite project, the Emancipation Day celebration. I respect the Council member and support this celebration but question how some of that money is being spent. According to the Washington Post, $80,000 was used last year to pay costs associated with a performance by gospel musician Kirk Franklin. The Post reported that, “Franklin traveled to the District with a 16-person entourage, including backup singers, according to budget documents. In addition to Franklin’s $55,000 booking fee, city taxpayers spent $8,758 for airfare, $1,557 for his limousine and $8,721 to put Franklin and his entourage up at the JW Marriott hotel in Washington, including $2,600 for Franklin’s VIP suite. Records attributed $4,215 in food and beverage costs to the entourage.” Franklin is a homophobe who believes that part of his role as a Christian is to convert gays to a straight lifestyle. That isn’t what I want my tax money used for. In addition, according to the Post, “$3,891 was used for an honorarium and lodging for Al Sharpton.” I would think this celebration is something he would want to participate in without a fee and if not there are many others who would.
The mayor submitted a balanced budget to the Council that included no new taxes and in fact reduced some. The Council has the right to review it and make their changes but the people of the District need to feel confident that these changes aren’t made for purely political reasons. The budget shouldn’t be used only to advance their campaigns or for personal projects.