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Council balking at Gray's request to spend more money

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Local,Capital Land,DC,Liz Farmer

At a hearing on D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray's request to spend the expected revenue surplus this year, council members seemed hesitant to comply.

The city's CFO has projected a $42 million surplus for the end of this fiscal year; Gray has asked to spend all of it and an additional $2 million on line items he says will meet unexpected cost increases.

Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans, who has admonished the administration for what he called a "tax and spend" mentality, said at Tuesday's hearing that the city should be building up its savings again.

"In the early '90s, we saved our money ... when times were good," he said. "What if we didn't have this [predicted surplus], how would we address it? The answer is we would live within our means."

Chair Brown and Michael Brown echoed Evans' concern about spending the entire predicted surplus. Others questioned the reasoning behind some of the requests, casting doubt on whether there were really "unexpected" rising costs as Gray's budget plan outlines.

Councilwomen Mary Cheh (Ward 3) and Muriel Bowser (Ward 4) both pointed out that the largest request is an additional $12 million for the schools' food services contract that the administration says is due to rising food costs and a contract renegotiation with the service company.

But Cheh pointed out the amount budgeted this year for food services was just $1.4 million, a 91 percent reduction from 2011, and called it a "time bomb" that inevitably had to be made up for in the budget.

"What I'm telling you now is this spending pressure is not the result of increased costs," she said, adding that the request gives her a "lack of confidence about the other things that are being portrayed as spending pressures."

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