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D.C. Council Finds Common Ground On Budget

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The D.C. Council passed a budget plan for next year during a meeting May 15. 
Mallory Noe-Payne
The D.C. Council passed a budget plan for next year during a meeting May 15. 

The D.C. Council is tentatively approving the city's $11 billion budget and the plan is earning praise for boosting affordable housing spending without raising taxes. 

After a period of discord at the Wilson Building — fights over furloughs, battles over bar closings and booze sales — city leaders were patting themselves on the back yesterday as the D.C. Council unanimously passed Council Chair Kwame Brown's budget on first reading. Final approval will come in a couple of weeks.

The budget plan, modeled after Mayor Vincent Gray's initial proposal, avoids any new fees or taxes. In addition, members reached a compromise on Gray's plan to extend bar hours; instead of year-round, the hours will just be extended to 4 a.m. on city and federal holidays and the weekends that surround them. 

Gray and Brown also struck a deal over the D.C. Healthcare Alliance. The budget restores hospital insurance coverage for thousands of undocumented immigrants. 

"It provides healthcare for everyone no matter where they're from, or what language they speak," Brown said during the vote.

The cornerstone of the plan may be the boost in spending for affordable housing. Brown's budget restores funding for the city's Housing Production Trust. 

"With $18 million to kickstart the backlog of housing developments, we will see hundreds and hundreds of affordable housing units being built because of our actions today," Brown said. "It is our sincere hope that this investment puts this trust back on solid ground."

The council's spending plan was later endorsed by Gray, who added that the budget, in his words, closely tracks his priorities. 

But fiscal concerns remain. Council member Jack Evans still has concerns on the city's education spending, and he voiced them Tuesday. 

"We have spent $9 billion in the last five years in the education cluster, and then last Thursday we get a newspaper article like this," he said at Tuesday's meeting, holding up a copy of an article from last week. "'DCPS Ranks Last on National Report Card' ... dead last."

The council will take a second, final vote on the budget in two weeks. As for what to do with an expected budget surplus, however; that is still up for debate. 

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