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D.C. budget vote scheduled for Tuesday

- The Washington Times - Monday, May 14, 2012

The long, tortured path toward compensating city workers for four furlough days will get a little longer, as the D.C. Council looks ahead to fiscal 2013 instead of taking up the issue on Tuesday during its first round of voting on the upcoming year's budget.

Labor unions had been counting on city lawmakers to pay city workers for the quartet of unpaid holidays they took in 2011 as part of cost-cutting measures, only to see the city obtain a $240 million windfall in revenue by the end of the year.

Council staff said the issue will likely have to wait until June, when D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M Gandhi releases revised revenue estimates.

Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown is scheduled to release his comprehensive budget plan for fiscal 2013 later today. The particulars of the plan are unclear, but his spokeswoman said the plan will not include any new taxes or fees.

A primary point of contention has been Mayor Vincent C. Gray's plan to allow bars to stay open for an extra hour on both weekdays and weekends to raise $3.2 million.

Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat who oversees alcohol regulation as chairman of the Committee on Human Services, opposed the plan and suggested an excise tax on alcohol sales at the wholesale level.

Mr. Brown floated a compromise last week would raise nearly $2 million in expanded bar and restaurant hours and reallocate $1.2 million in specific-purpose revenue to cover the $3.2 million needed to forgo the mayor's plan and the higher excise tax.

But Mr. Graham has not wavered in his opposition to bonus-time for booze.

"I can't support extended hours," Mr. Graham said Monday of the chairman's compromise. "I know 19 days is better than 365 days, but it's still 19 days."

Mr. Graham said he knows the chairman may be able to whip up the votes for his compromise, although he has not abandoned his excise tax proposal. But if he cannot find support for the tax among his colleagues, he added, "that's not going to work, either."

In another budget sideshow, council member David A. Catania, at-large independent and chairman of the Committee on Health, received a stamp of approval from the CFO to cover hospital care for members of the D.C. Healthcare Alliance,which serves non-Medicaid eligible residents, many of them immigrants.

Mr. Catania's staff said he has located the roughly $20 million needed to restore the coverage, which had been cut in the mayor's budget plan. He tweaked the plan so that it does not affect disability services, a point of contention from the mayor's camp afterthe council member released an initial plan last week.

The CFO-certified figures are slightly different from the savings Mr. Catania's office previously outlined, but still come from higher-than-anticipated revenues and a re-evalutation of reimbursement rates within the Department of Healthcare Finance.

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