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Bowser proposes tax hikes to fight homelessness, fund affordable housing

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser presented her $12 billion budget proposal to the D.C. Council on April 2 (Cuneyt Dil/The Eagle).

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser wants to increase the D.C. sales tax to fund affordable housing and initiatives aimed at fighting homelessness in the city, she said on April 2.

Under the 2016 budget proposal Bowser presented to the D.C. Council, the citywide sales tax would rise 0.25 percent percent to 6 percent total. She defended the tax hike as a necessary measure to end homelessness in the city by 2025 and to provide $100 million of funds for affordable housing. Bowser also wants to close D.C. General, the city’s largest homeless shelter in Southeast, which has been plagued by poor sanitation and safety concerns.

“In addition to having to close a $190 million budget gap, we also wanted to live up to the expectations of residents to invest in new priorities,” Bowser told reporters after meeting with the Council. “And what we heard time and time again is that we have to dedicate $100 million every single year to affordable housing, we have to close D.C. General and we have to end homelessness. The additional revenue will allow us to do that.”

The sales tax and a separate parking tax — raising a total of $26 million — will likely face some resistance in the D.C. Council. The Washington Post reported the Council rejected a similar sales tax increase last year, and Council Chairman Phil Mendelson told NBC 4 after Bowser presented her budget he does not support raising taxes.

The proposed tax increases would help fund a $18.7 million down payment on a homelessness prevention program intended to act as a crisis response system. There is also $40 million in the proposal to close D.C. General and set up new homeless shelters spread out across the city, Bowser said. The proposals come after Bowser’s promise in her State of the District address to end all homelessness in the city by 2025.

“It is going to help us ensure homelessness in the District is rare, brief and nonrecurring,” Bowser said on April 2.

The $12 billion balanced budget proposal keeps in place middle class income tax cuts made last year under former Mayor Vincent C. Gray. The budget’s increase of 3.2 percent in spending is the lowest in at least four years; last year the budget grew by 4.7 percent

The proposal fully funds Metro, partly through the parking tax increase of 4 percent, ensuring no fare increases or service cuts to the region’s public transportation agency. The stalled streetcar project also gets $355 million over six years to start service on H Street and to eventually extend service to Ward 7 and the Georgetown Waterfront. After uncertainty earlier in March over whether she would continue with the streetcar project, Bowser pledged in her State of the District address to begin streetcar service and expand it from its currently planned location.

“The parking tax is dedicated to [transportation] improvements,” Bowser said to reporters, adding, “and yes, I am willing to make the argument to the Council.”

Other funds include $5.1 million to pay for 2,800 body cameras for Metropolitan Police Department patrol officers; $98 million for improvements on roads, alleys and sidewalks over six years; and improvements to a handful of parks and public schools. To address increased enrollment at city schools, the budget includes $31.4 million for both public and charter schools.

Bowser also looked to cut slack in agency spending. The University of the District of Columbia’s funding is cut 5 percent, and her budget proposal shows savings of $35.3 million from efficiencies.

“We also looked to every cluster of the government to contribute to solving the budget problem,” Bowser said. “And we challenged the agency directors to do more with less.”

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