- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 6, 2017

D.C. Council members from the city’s poorest wards slammed Mayor Muriel Bowser’s proposed budget for continuing to leave behind the District’s most vulnerable residents.

Just days after receiving Ms. Bowser’s fiscal 2018 budget, titled “D.C. Values in Action,” lawmakers east of the Anacostia River said the proposal does little to help health care, education and public safety in Wards 7 and 8 despite the District’s booming economy.

“After reading most of this budget, I can’t reconcile the title with the actions proposed,” Vincent Gray, Ward 7 Democrat, said Thursday at a budget hearing with the Bowser administration. “This should be a policy document reflecting what the residents want.”

The mayor and legislators have trumpeted the District’s financial success this year, noting a $128 million surplus and more than $1 billion in the rainy day fund.

“The poor are getting poorer, but there are cranes in the sky and we are growing by leaps and bounds,” freshman lawmaker Trayon White, Ward 8 Democrat, said from the dais Thursday.

Mr. White said the budget provides enough funding for programs to give residents in Ward 8 a taste of the city’s prosperity but not enough to celebrate the spoils.

“A cup that is almost empty, filled with a few drops of hope, is still a neglected cup,” he said.

Both Mr. Gray and Mr. White chided Miss Bowser for a lack of investment in education, affordable housing, health care, job training, the arts and public safety for residents in Wards 7 and 8.

Despite millions of dollars allotted for recruitment and retention of police officers, Mr. Gray said the budget actually would divest the department. He said the proposal falls about $60 million short of the money needed to bolster the police force to recommended staffing levels.

The Metropolitan Police Department has been losing officers at a significant rate due to retirements. Current staffing around 3,800 officers, and officials have said the city needs at least 4,000.

“The proposed FY 2018 budget cuts the baseline budget for MPD by $15.3 million in the middle of a public safety crisis in certain neighborhoods of this city, with Ward 7 arguably hit the hardest by the surge in violence,” said Mr. Gray, a former mayor.

He pointed to a rising number of homicides in Ward 7 over the last two years: 32 slayings in 2015 and 39 last year. Ward 7 saw 22 slayings in 2013 and 26 in 2014 — the last two years of the Gray administration.

Miss Bowser stood by her proposal, which sets out $11.7 million for recruiting and retaining police officers, including $1.8 million to increase the police cadet program from 35 to 70 participants and $3.7 million for a student loan forgiveness and housing program for officers.

But Mr. Gray, who is mulling a run for mayor next year, made it clear how he feels about the numbers, using one of Miss Bowser’s signature phrases against her: “This budget is not a road to inclusive prosperity, it’s path that leads to nowhere.”

The criticism of Miss Bowser’s education proposal isn’t relegated to east of the Anacostia River. The mayor’s budget calls for a 1.5 percent increase in per-pupil payment to D.C. Public Schools. But that increase is less than the 2 percent hike that has been the standard in the city over the last 10 years.

Currently, base funding per student is set at nearly $10,000 before factoring in extra funds for students with special needs or who are deemed at-risk.

The D.C. Office of the State Superintendent for Education recommended a 3.5 percent increase, but most city education advocates said they would have settled for the standard 2 percent hike.

“By failing to increase per-pupil spending by at least 2 percent, city leaders would shortchange our students: teachers would lose jobs, crucial extracurriculars would face cuts, and school budgets would not keep pace with rising inflation,” the local Democrats for Education Reform said in a statement.

The progressive D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute said Miss Bowser should “delay some or all of the scheduled tax cuts if that is needed to adequately support schools.”

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