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D.C. Councilmembers air budget concerns to Bowser

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (far right) says he is against raising taxes while the city is financially strong (Cuneyt Dil/The Eagle).

D.C. Councilmembers outlined a laundry list of concerns with Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s 2016 budget plan on Monday, with a handful opposing her proposed increases to the sales and parking tax.

At issue is a sales tax increase of 0.25 percent — bumping the city’s total sales tax to 6 percent, at level with Maryland and Virginia’s — and a parking garage tax increase. Combined, the tax hikes would net the city an additional $26 million. Bowser (D) wants to use the money to combat homelessness and create affordable housing.

During a public briefing with Bowser, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said he did not support raising taxes when the city’s financial condition is strong. He was joined by Councilmembers Jack Evans and Mary Cheh in opposition to the mayor’s tax hikes.

“This is not the time to be raising taxes,” Mendelson (D) told Bowser, who sat before the Council alongside members of her Executive Office. “We are not suffering from reduced revenues.”

[ Bowser proposes tax hikes to fight homelessness, fund affordable housing]

Councilmembers Vincent Orange and Yvette Alexander supported the sales tax increase but had reservations about the parking tax increase.

“No one wants to raise taxes, but there are some policy goals that we heard loud and clear,” Orange (D-At Large) said.

Bowser’s $12.9 billion budget plan also cuts 5 percent from the University of the District of Columbia’s budget. Cheh (D-Ward 3) said the cuts run contrary to Bowser’s plan of creating opportunities for the middle class.

“This year UDC [and its law school] is going under its accreditation,” Cheh said. “This is the time to invest more in these institutions and not to take away money.”

Overall, councilmembers thanked Bowser for delivering her budget in a timely fashion — three months after taking office. Many were pleased the plan ranks homelessness and affordable housing as a top priority. The proposal includes $100 million to fund the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and nearly $70 million to address homelessness.

Evans (D-Ward 2), a member of the Metro Board of Directors, was pleased Bowser’s plan fully funds the region’s transportation agency, ensuring no fare increases or service cuts.

[ Get to know D.C. Government: D.C. Council]

Other concerns:

  • Evans pressed Bowser for an assurance that the money invested in affordable housing and homelessness will actually produce results.
  • Cheh, Chair of the Transportation Committee, was concerned Bowser’s plan wouldn’t fully fund streetcar service, an initiative Bowser supported in her State of the District address. The proposal allocates $355 million over six years to start service on H Street NE and to eventually extend the line to Ward 7 and the Georgetown Waterfront.
  • Cheh and Councilmember Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) had concerns about adequately funding city schools and possible renovations.

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