The D.C. Council on Thursday approved a mayoral request to spend $23 million in unused cash from the previous year, but not before several members griped during a nearly two-hour debate that they didn't like feeling pressured by Mayor Vincent Gray.
The testiness from council members started during a morning breakfast meeting during which they said the mayor's spending proposal had arrived to them only the evening before. At-large Councilman David Catania accused Gray's budget director of "putting a gun to our head," while other members questioned whether the mayor was keeping proper tabs on spending within city agencies.
The complaints only grew louder -- and longer -- when the council took up the five spending proposals later that afternoon during the legislative session.
Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans questioned why the leftover cash should go to schools when other renovations the city had promised its youth -- namely at the Fort Dupont Ice Arena and the Southeast Tennis & Learning Center -- had been repeatedly delayed.
Catania, who voted "no" on each proposal because he said the money should go to the general fund, took it a step further by saying the proposed $6.9 million more for technology upgrades to DC Public Schools wouldn't do any good.
"And by the way, if anyone thinks $6.9 million is going to be nirvana and suddenly going to lead to the magical education of the 45,000 kids in DCPS, you're kidding yourselves," he said. "Because we spend $2 billion on public schools and don't get the results we want, but somehow this money is going to do the trick? No."
The money was identified by agencies in recent weeks as unspent budgeted funds. Gray's spending plan includes $6.9 million apiece for public and charter schools, and the council had to approve it Thursday or the money must be automatically deposited into the city's general fund, under D.C. law.
Although council members were made aware of unspent funds earlier this month, the final proposal did not reach them until late Wednesday afternoon. Just a month earlier, council members were upset when they were told about a $140 million revenue surplus from fiscal 2012 but did not have time to spend that money before the year ended on Sept. 30. It, too, went into the general fund.
Other members expressed skepticism Thursday about where the new money was coming from.
"Things are being asserted without any proof," said Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh.
However, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said the accusations from some council members did not amount to a distrust of Gray's financial team.
"The amount of debate correlated directly with the fact that members were uncomfortable with how late this was presented," Mendelson said.