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Mayor builds legacy with $1.38b in D.C. construction budget

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Local,DC,Eric P. Newcomer,Phil Mendelson,Vincent Gray,David Catania,Jack Evans

One way to build a lasting legacy is with bricks and mortar. Facing flush budget times, Mayor Vincent Gray plans to pour city money into construction projects across the District.

Altogether, Gray's budget proposal calls for $1.38 billion in construction projects, including new schools and bridges and $400 million over six years to build a trolley line along H Street.

But the mayor's budget plan -- which would cost the District about $523 million next fiscal year just to service the city's massive debt -- is not without its critics.

At-large D.C. Councilman David Catania laid into the mayor's budget proposal during a hearing last week, saying he had a "different take than the chorus of hallelujahs that I've heard thus far."

He said the debt the city will have to pay off next year will be larger than the proposed $510 million budget for the Metropolitan Police Department.

Catania called the budget "absolutely" political in an interview with The Washington Examiner. "We're going on a giant building spree," he said.

Chairman Phil Mendelson joined Catania's line of criticism, drawing the same comparison between the debt and the police department budget.

However, Councilman Jack Evans, chairman of the Committee on Finance and Revenue, dismissed their criticisms in an interview with The Examiner on Tuesday.

"I don't even think that the analogy makes any sense at all," he said. "It's bigger than some things and less than others, so what?"

Evans said that the District carries a reasonable amount of debt, which is capped at 12 percent of the city's total spending.

According to the mayor's proposed budget, that debt will climb to 11.99 percent of spending by fiscal 2018, costing the city $736 million to service debt that year.

In an emailed statement, a spokesman for the DC Chamber of Commerce agreed with the mayor's capital improvement plan: "The Chamber is supportive of the long-term infrastructure investment projects in the mayor's capital budget, which we as a city need to continue to grow to our full potential."

The $1.38 billion building budget does not just pay for large projects like bridges, but also to replace police cars and improve parks.

The mayor's proposed budget calls for $103 million to expand the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library and $15.2 million for the Cleveland Park Neighborhood Library. About $50 million over two years is planned to create parking spaces in NoMa and about $15 million is slotted for the Fort Dupont Ice Arena.

enewcomer@washingtonexaminer.com

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