Gray budget boosts streetcar, traffic cameras; cuts housing
Mayor Gray released his proposed budget for the next fiscal year this morning. A source sent along some pictures of slides from the presentation. It shows a significant commitment to streetcars and better traffic enforcement, but puts a tax break above building new housing.
On transportation, he's budgeted $9.1 million additional for WMATA to maintain service. The agency was asking for $17 million additional from DC this year, so this only fulfills about half; unless this increases, WMATA may have to raise fares more than expected or cut service.
Some of the money would come from expanding performance parking, which is an excellent idea. Unfortunately, this number also includes taking the away the money from existing performance parking zones, which was dedicated to local improvements in the affected neighborhoods.
There's ongoing funding for streetcars including, in another slide, an item (without a specific number) about starting a new rail safety program to go with the streetcar.
It looks like the long-stalled traffic camera program will finally get moving, with $5.8 million of budget to buy cameras.
That's not really spending, though, since the program more than pays for itself in fines unless drivers start dramatically obeying the law far more often. The budget estimates $30.6 million in revenue.
Can drivers stop 82% of their speeding, running red lights, blocking the box, not yielding to pedestrians in crosswalks, and more? If they don't, DC will get the revenue; if they do, our streets will be a lot safer for everyone.
Just like last year, housing affordability didn't fare so well. Gray's budget moves $19.9 million from the Housing Production Trust Fund, which finances new construction of more housing in areas where the market value of land isn't enough to attract private investment.
That money will go to the Local Rent Supplement Program, but DCFPI says that just plugs a hole from taking away other money. In the end, people in need will still get help with housing, but we won't get a new supply of affordable housing.
The revenue section also includes $12 million from changing the inflation adjustment for tax deductions on the income tax and property taxes. However, the Mayor said that if additional revenue comes in, he would spend $1.1 million to restore a tax exemption for out of state municipal bonds.
This doesn't seem to make a lot of sense; why penalize people earning income and owning homes to give a tax break to people with larger investment portfolios? Other states do not exempt other states' bonds and there isn't a local policy we advance by just giving out this tax break.
Additional funds should go toward restoring the HPTF, if not actual budgeted money. Remember, last year the Council devised a priority list for how to use any new "unanticipated revenue," then ignored it and cherry picked items off the list. The housing fund was the second highest item that didn't get any money. Now DC has a surplus for this year, and the housing fund isn't getting it either. How long will DC leaders ignore this important priority?
Other housing programs covered with federal funds will lose money because of federal budget cuts.
There were a variety of other cuts in many departments, especially social service areas.
The budget also commits to continuing planned high school modernizations at Ballou, Cardozo, and Dunbar and finishing planning and design for Ellington, Coolidge and Roosevelt. It also funds the planned new middle schools in Ward 5 and adding and modernizing more middle schools in the future.
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