- The Washington Times - Monday, May 18, 2020

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and other city officials said Monday they will not raise taxes or cut services to shore up a $722 million shortfall in the current budget and $774 million in lost revenue in the fiscal 2021 budget.

Instead, they will reduce the budgets of city agencies and make use of previous years’ budget surpluses to close the gaps, they said at a press conference.

“This budget really reflects our communities’ priorities,” Miss Bowser said. “It is a balanced budget that makes big investments in our residents that reflects those shared values and also sets up the District for an efficient recovery.”

Miss Bowser is scheduled to present her revised $16.7 billion budget for fiscal 2021 to the D.C. Council on Tuesday. Emergency expenditures to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and revenue losses from businesses being shut amid a shutdown order contributed to the budget shortfalls.

City Administrator Rashad Young said officials weighing budget cuts focused on maintaining core government functions, maximizing resources available for the COVID-19 public health emergency and not losing ground on priorities such as affordable housing, education and health care.

For fiscal 2021, city agencies will have to cut $166 million from their budgets, which includes suspending all pay raises and cost-of-living adjustments. This is in addition to a $190 million reduction in agency budgets this year, mostly consisting of a hiring and spending freeze mandated in March.

Mr. Young said that furloughs or layoffs were not used to close gaps in the budget.

In closing the budget gaps, officials made use of $322 million in revenue surplus from 2019, $213 million from the fiscal stabilization reserves, $80 million in savings from refinanced bonds and a change in a rule that allows the city to pay back bonds for Nationals Park on time, instead of a year early, which resulted in $105 million.

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, attended Monday’s press conference and said he thinks this is a “very good” budget that resolves the deficit while continuing to make investments in education.

“We went into this — when I say ‘we,’ I am talking about the public, you all, the government, council members — expecting there’s going to have to be a lot of pain,” Mr. Mendelson said. “While I think when we look at the details, we will still see there has been some trimming in agencies that we may have some concerns about, over all, when you look at the big moves here that what has been presented solves the problem, the problem being for the first time in a decade where we see substantial drop in revenues.”

Over the next month and a half, council committees will hold virtual public hearings to review every agency’s budget. The chairs of each committee then will produce a report with final budget recommendations. Their reports will be synthesized into a single budget on which the whole council will conduct its first vote on July 7.

Mr. Young explained that the revenue declines from the pandemic will have a multiyear impact on the budget.

Officials cut $1.2 billion from the District’s six-year capital budget, which is required by law to be balanced, without removing or shifting projects that were not ready to move forward. Projects already underway, like the K Street transit way and the Benning Road Streetcar extension, will continue, and projects related to infrastructure maintenance and immediate safety concerns were prioritized.

Meanwhile, Miss Bowser said the city has seen an eight-day decrease in community transmission of COVID-19, which brings the District closer to meeting the 14-day decrease requirement to enter phase one of reopening.

In Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam gave the go-ahead for the Virginia Beach oceanfront to open on Friday under strict public health rules. His announcement comes two days after beaches saw large crowds while technically still being closed under phase one of Mr. Northam’s reopening plan.

“Let me be clear: These rules must be followed,” Mr. Northam said. “If people swarm these beaches and ignore social distancing rules or the regulations the city has put into place, I will not hesitate to reinstate phase one restrictions or even close the beach outright if necessary.”

Sunbathing, swimming, fishing and surfing will be allowed on the beaches, but alcohol, tents, speakers or umbrellas are prohibited. Virginia Beach will cap parking lots at 50% capacity to avoid overcrowding.

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