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Vincent Gray's budget calls for new $1.38 billion in spending projects

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Local,DC,Eric P. Newcomer,Vincent Gray

Parks, school buildings, bridges and streetcars. Reading Mayor Vincent Gray's budget proposal for fiscal year 2014, capital investments -- $1.38 billion of them in just a year -- could permanently alter the face of a growing, and in many ways flourishing, D.C.

The D.C. Council's public reaction to Gray's third budget proposal was, excepting a contentious back-and-forth with Councilman David Catania, largely positive. The mayor's promise that he wasn't proposing any new taxes or fees probably helped.

Even facing expected federal cuts from sequestration, the mayor's proposed budget, which totals $10.1 billion, achieved a number of council objectives and was met with words of thanks, hugs and congratulations.

Chairman Phil Mendelson straightforwardly called the budget "generally well-received by council members."

But, Mendelson said Thursday, "I look forward to the next 56 days" -- the time period in which the council can kick the proposed budget's figurative tires before passing a final version on May 22.

Gray's suggested capital improvement projects are extensive.

An estimated $400 million will be spent on streetcars in six years, and $622.5 million is planned to construct a new Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge.

Over two years, the District wants $50 million to go toward purchasing and developing parks in the budding NoMa neighborhood.

For the Fort Dupont Ice Arena, the city wants to spend $15 million, along with $5 million for a nonprofit group that supports the arena.

The Southeast Tennis & Learning Center needs renovations and new construction -- that's $18 million.

There could even be a new Department of Motor Vehicles in Georgetown.

That's not to mention the numerous improvements to libraries and schools -- including more than $100 million in city money to alter the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library and $21.7 million for the Palisades Neighborhood Library.

Altogether, the mayor has called for spending $380 million more on capital improvement projects than the budget planned for last year.

Although the planned capital improvements are particularly noteworthy, human services, much of it going toward welfare, continues to constitute the largest section of the D.C. budget at 40.5 percent, totaling more than $4 billion.

At least $56 million is going to be set aside for city employee pay raises.

The mayor has promised that the budget does not introduce new taxes and fees.

It proposes killing a recently instituted out-of-state bonds tax, which opponents claim disproportionately affects the elderly.

The budget proposal -- which will likely drive headlines for weeks as the mews media, council members and members of the curious public continue to scrutinize the mayor's plan -- also indicates that more traffic cameras will be positioned throughout the city.

A letter submitted by Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi included in the proposal suggests cameras in 91 new locations throughout the city will help drive nontax revenue in the next fiscal year.

"We wish this were about traffic safety. It's become all part of the math, and it's all absorbed into the budget," said John Townsend, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

enewcomer@washingtonexaminer.com

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