D.C. budget wish list could mean millions more in spending

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Local,DC,Alan Blinder

The District's budget for the coming fiscal year might get even bigger than the $9.4 billion the D.C. Council already has approved.

Alongside provisions for playgrounds and parking changes, the D.C. Council tucked in a wish list that could cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars if the District takes in more money than expected.

The 27-item revenue contingency list is sweeping and could shore up programs throughout city government.

Special education programs could receive a sudden $5 million boost, the Department of Employment Services could receive a $10 million windfall for adult job training, and the city could spend $1.1 million to repeal the out-of-state municipal bond tax.

Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans, chairman of the council's Committee on Finance and Revenue, said that even those priorities could shift.

"You can change the law, and that's what we do," Evans said. "If I could ever get myself seven votes, I'd lower taxes. ... Life can change."

But if 2013 evolves as 2012 has, lawmakers are likely to have extra cash to burn, even though they prepared a budget with an anticipated $172 million shortfall in mind.

So far in the 2012 fiscal year, District Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi has revised his increased his revenue estimate by $77 million.

The surplus dollars were what set off a contentious fight over a supplemental budget, one of the last pieces of legislation Kwame Brown pushed through as council chairman before his sudden resignation.

For months, legislators and Mayor Vincent Gray squabbled about how to spend the surprise $77 million, finally reaching a resolution last week. That package included a $22 million plan to pay city workers for furlough days they accepted last year, and millions for education, libraries and public buildings.

Although the wish list could shift, aides at the John A. Wilson Building said the document could shorten any midyear budget battles.

The contingency list the council signed off on isn't significantly different from the one Gray proposed when he rolled out his budget measure in March.

"There are things that you want to do that you sometimes just don't have the money to do," said mayoral spokesman Pedro Ribeiro, who added that the list "was to say that there are priorities that are out there that we think are important but didn't fit."

Ribeiro said Gray was still reviewing the budget lawmakers unanimously approved, but the mayor had not yet raised any significant objections.

"We need a little bit of time to look at it, but there's nothing in it that we see as a huge cause for concern," Ribeiro said.

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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