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D.C. Council Votes Down Surplus Spending Plan

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The D.C. Council, shown here at the dais earlier this year, couldn't reach an agreement on a surplus spending proposal May 1. 
Mallory Noe-Payne
The D.C. Council, shown here at the dais earlier this year, couldn't reach an agreement on a surplus spending proposal May 1. 

There was more more discord at the D.C. Council Tuesday as lawmakers became deadlocked over what to do with the city's budget surplus.

After hours of debate and legislative maneuvering, Ward 8 Council member Marion Barry cast the make-or-break vote on the surplus spending. He voted against the package, preventing its passage. Now, council members will have to go back to the drawing board on the surplus before they finalize the Fiscal Year 2013 budget later this spring.

Barry's vote wasn't a gut-wrenching decision over which programs to slash or what services to cut in 2013; instead, the contentious issue centered around spending an unexpected windfall of cash from the current year.

The most popular option is repaying the city government workers who were furloughed for four days last year when it looked like the city was facing a major budget deficit. Council Chairman Kwame Brown and D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray proposed using $63 million of the estimated $240 million surplus; of that, $22 million would have repaid the employees for their upaid furlough. 

Several council members, including Vincent Orange, supported the employee repayment. "Today it starts with repaying our employees, give them their four days, as Council member Barry said, let's put this issue behind us and let's address the next issue," said Orange during the debate.

But that turned out to be difficult, as different council members argued passionately for where they thought the money should go.

Council member David Catania proposed a compromise: pay back the furloughed workers for two days and use $10 million toward affordable housing, and funding for a program that provides health care to undocumented immigrants.

"Ask yourself, to the immigrant who is currently in the midst of hospitalization, with oncologists, with treatment, who might be fighting for their lives with all types of concerns like, how do they keep their house, their job … how do they keep from being deported, and all kinds of things … 'no, no lets just get our four days and good luck with that,'" Catania said.

Council member Jim Graham called for some of the funds to go to welfare recipients while others said the surplus should go to out-of-state municipal bond holders.

But as more and more proposals and deals were discussed and hashed out on the dais, whatever coalition of votes city leaders had cobbled together before the start of the day collapsed as council member Barry cast the final vote.

The vote tally was tied at 6-6, meaning the measure failed.

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