Mayor Gray on budget defeat: 'It's money that's needed'

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Local,DC,Alan Blinder

When the D.C. Council unexpectedly voted down a $64 million spending plan because of a disagreement about a plan to pay District employees for furlough days, lawmakers were also delaying action on $42 million of other proposals from Mayor Vincent Gray -- and prompting warnings that some programs need immediate cash infusions to avoid breaking the law.

"It's money that's needed," Gray said Wednesday, a day after the vote. "I believe in what we've put forward in the supplemental."

In a pair of close votes, legislators rejected two plans to spend $64 million in unexpected revenue the city collected. But Council Chairman Kwame Brown said he didn't think lawmakers opposed most of the proposals, yet voted them down because of an effort to pay city workers for four furlough days they were forced to take last year as the District sought to close a $188 million budget deficit.

How they voted
A D.C. Council vote against Mayor Vincent Gray's budget supplemental has left three city agencies facing the possibility of a combined $39 million in budget shortfalls. Here's how legislators voted:
For supplemental: Yvette Alexander (Ward 7), Kwame Brown (chairman), Jack Evans (Ward 2), Jim Graham (Ward 1), Vincent Orange (at-large) and Tommy Wells (Ward 6)
Against supplemental: Marion Barry (Ward 8), Muriel Bowser (Ward 4), Michael Brown (at-large), David Catania (at-large), Mary Cheh (Ward 3) and Phil Mendelson (at-large)SClBWard 5's seat on the D.C. Council is vacant.

"The conversation was really about the furloughs," Brown told The Washington Examiner. "It wasn't about the other items."

The Gray administration maintains, though, that the other parts of the proposal were equally crucial because most of the supplemental budget was set to address budget shortfalls in three agencies, including D.C. Public Schools.

"Unfortunately, this vote puts thousands of DCPS students at risk," Gray spokesman Pedro Ribeiro said.

Under the mayor's plan, the school system would have received about $25 million in emergency funding. The Department of Health Care Finance, which manages the city's Medicaid program, would have been granted about $10 million in budget breathing room, while the Department of General Services would have received an extra $4 million.

Last month, Natwar Gandhi, the District's chief financial officer, told D.C. leaders that failing to act could jeopardize the city's requirement to have a balanced budget.

"All of the pressures must be resolved to ensure that the affected agencies do not end the year in deficit," Gandhi wrote to Gray and Brown.

Still, some legislators have questioned whether it's appropriate for the city to approve supplemental budgets. At-large Councilman Phil Mendelson, who voted against both proposals, has described the plans as "bailouts" for missteps by agency leaders.

Ribeiro countered, though, that the Gray administration has lowered so-called spending pressures -- anticipated budget shortfalls -- to their lowest levels in decades.

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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