- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 3, 2014

D.C. Council members got their first look at outgoing Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s $10.7 billion fiscal 2015 budget, with one of the contenders for his job putting the lame-duck executive “on notice” that portions of the spending plan will spark a fight.

Two D.C. Council members are seeking to replace Mr. Gray — who was denied re-election by voters Tuesday in the Democratic mayoral primary — and the budget process could be at least one way they try to distinguish themselves in the seven months until the November general election.

“It will be more contentious than in a nonelection year, but I expect it will be less contentious than what we’ve been seeing the last couple of months,” D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said of the process ahead. Prior to Tuesday, three other council members were seeking the Democratic mayoral nomination and five council members were running for re-election.

Mr. Gray, on the campaign trail, proposed half a billion dollars worth of new spending. His plan, unveiled Thursday at a meeting with D.C. Council members, included $116 million in increased education funding and a commitment of $100 million for programs to increase affordable housing.

“Those are the two principle investments we’ve proposed, and if some council member has something that is more important than that, let them put it on the table,” Mr. Gray told reporters after the meeting.

The fiscal 2015 spending plan increases the budget by 6.5 percent, to $10.8 billion. Local funding, from sources such as income and property tax, account for $6.8 billion of the budget and saw a 7 percent increase.

D.C. Council member David A. Catania, one of the two council member in the mayoral race, was quick to challenge Mr. Gray’s plan, saying he was putting the mayor “on notice.” The at-large independent and chairman of the council’s Committee on Education took specific issue with $62 million allotted for renovations to the shuttered Spingarn High School in Northeast as a means to boost technical education in the city, noting that another technical-education facility sits right behind it.

Absent from the meeting was Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 Democrat, who bested Mr. Gray for the Democratic nomination. A spokesman said Thursday she was reviewing Mr. Gray’s plan.

The mayor and Ms. Bowser have not talked since her victory Tuesday, Mr. Gray said. In an election with only 22 percent voter turnout, Ms. Bowser received 44 percent of the vote while Mr. Gray came in second with 33 percent.

“I haven’t had a conversation with her, and I’m sure we’ll have conversations in the next weeks,” he said, when pressed about whether he would support Ms. Bowser’s campaign. “Undoubtedly, we will communicate. I don’t know how that will come about, but certainly we will communicate.”

Included in the budget is $866 million for D.C. Public Schools — a $50 million increase in spending; $91 million in capital spending over the next six years to help the beleaguered fire department replace its neglected fleet of vehicles; and $8.5 million to fund recently adopted legislation eliminating property taxes for elderly longtime D.C. residents.

The budget includes the addition of a middle-income tax bracket that would reduce income taxes for residents making between $40,000 to $60,000, but does not address other suggestions made by the D.C. Tax Revision Commission, such as the levying of $25-per-employee tax on businesses.

Despite the ongoing mayoral campaigns, Mr. Mendelson said the budget appears to be starting in a good point and that he doesn’t expect passage to be problematic.

“I think that the majority of the council is going to be looking at issues in terms of the merits rather than who wins or loses based on that issue,” Mr. Mendelson said.

• Andrea Noble can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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