D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown on Wednesday shepherded unanimous approval of the city's $9.4 billion fiscal 2013 budget hours before he was forced to address mounting questions about his political future amid a federal probe into the finances of his 2008 campaign.
The council's 13-0 vote placed their final stamp on Mayor Vincent C. Gray's budget, which includes $5.9 billion in local funds for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. The spending plan extends benefits to needy families for a year and raises money through initiatives such as an expansion of bar hours and the city's traffic-camera system.
Revisiting an issue from fiscal 2012, council members also decided to compensate city workers for four furlough days they took in 2011.
Mr. Gray praised the council for passing a budget that adheres to his priorities and closes a $172 million gap for the year.
But attention quickly shifted from the spending plan when Mr. Brown announced Wednesday afternoon that he would hold an impromptu news conference to address intensifying murmurs that prosecutors are wrapping up their investigation into his campaign finances.
"I have no plans at this time to resign," Mr. Brown told a bevy of reporters, adding that he did not believe he broke any laws in 2008. "Clearly, I would not like to have all these distractions. I regret the fact we're even having this conversation."
The yearlong federal investigation came after an audit performed by the Office of Campaign Finance that said Mr. Brown's re-election committee did not report more than $100,000 in contributions and failed to report or substantiate hundreds of thousands of dollars more in expenditures, among other financial irregularities.
Mr. Brown said he wished he could have used the moment before the TV cameras to talk about the budget instead of his personal issues.
Budget talks in past weeks circled around a key topic in the District, affordable housing. And in a notable move that marked something of a victory for Mr. Brown, the chairman amended Mr. Gray's plan by dedicating about $18 million to the Housing Production Trust Fund with funds tied to the anticipated sale of city-owned land.
City lawmakers spent a significant chunk of Tuesday's session debating whether they should delay a 25 percent cut in benefits to residents who have relied on the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program for more than 60 months.
The council voted 10-3 in favor of extending the benefits under a proposal by council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, after other lawmakers said city officials failed to prepare enrollees for self-sufficiency.
"Where has this government been over the last 14 years?" council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, said.
Mr. Graham, chairman of the Committee on Human Services that oversees alcohol regulation, also reiterated his opposition to a proposal that allows bars to stay open until 4 a.m. during the week of the presidential inauguration and on certain holidays.
Mr. Brown proposed the special hours in lieu of a mayoral plan that would allow bars to stay open for an extra hour every day of the year.
"Nineteen days of 4 a.m. is better than 365 days of 4 a.m., so we very much appreciate that," Mr. Graham said. "But there's still going to be some very serious spillover effects."
Mr. Graham successfully moved a measure that would require participating bars to notify the city whether they plan to stay open until 4 a.m. and submit a "safety plan."
He failed to place $2 million — the amount needed to cover the cost of eliminating the bar proposal — at the bottom of a contingency "wish list" for unanticipated revenues that enter city coffers through revised estimates this month and in September.
The 7-6 vote to kill the measure marked the first time newly sworn-in Kenyan McDuffie, Ward 5 Democrat, cast a voice vote from the dais. He supported Mr. Graham's proposal.
Mr. McDuffie will gain oversight of the Department of Employment Services as chairman of a committee on workforce development issues.
"I believe every member should have a committee," Mr. Brown said.
Council member Michael A. Brown, at-large independent, will now oversee the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development — formally overseen by the council chairman — as part of a newly formed Committee on Housing and Economic Development.
Council member Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 Democrat, will oversee the Department of General Services as chairman of the Committee on Government Operations, Chairman Brown said.
Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday released a bill for fiscal 2013 that contains a $667 million federal payment to the District for its court system and security programs, plus $60 million to the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program — which helps disadvantaged city children to attend private schools — by funding the SOAR Act supported last year by House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.
The appropriations bill keeps a longstanding ban on publicly funded abortions in the District and prohibits the city from using federal funds for its needle exchange and medical marijuana programs.
© Copyright 2015 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.