District Digest: The State of spending all this money Address

Routing the extra cash for good use

In the annual State of the District address last night, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray revealed some of his plans for his remaining time as mayor.

Gray’s short-term goals include putting some of the city’s budget surplus to good use. D.C.’s $417 million in excess revenue will not be saved in its entirety, as was previously indicated.

According to the Washington Post, most of the surplus will be saved, however, bringing the District’s reserves to $1.5 billion. City officials remain worried that federal government spending cuts will be implemented, leaving D.C. without a significant source of its income.

The rest of the surplus—over $100 million—will be directed towards affordable housing efforts.

“The city is doing exceedingly well,” said Pedro Ribeiro, a spokesman for Gray. “Now it’s time to make investments we need to make.”

These investments will include $100 million in spending on new and existing affordable housing, according to Washington City Paper. Additionally, Gray will revitalize the city’s trust fund for financing affordable housing, which is legally required to operate every year.

In the past few years, the fund operated on only a small scale funding already existing housing or supplementing rent payments. Now, over $15 million will be devoted to this fund, with the intention of creating new, affordable housing.

Robert Pohlman, a former top D.C. finance official who leads the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development explained the importance of new housing for a growing city like D.C. “[New housing] is central to any effort to increase the affordable housing stock,” Pohlman said. “Not everybody who moves in can afford the new apartment or condo in NoMa. The need is going to grow exponentially.”

The new housing measures will likely have the full support of D.C. Council members. New, affordable housing was at the top of the “wish list” of Council members who anticipated the surplus budget.

Payin’ the po-lice

After six years without a contract, the police union began a new round of negotiations with city officials this week, as expected. What was unexpected, however, was how quickly these meetings would reach an impasse.

Kristopher Baumann, the police union chairman, filed a request for a mediator for the negotiations, in agreement with city officials. According to The Washington Examiner, an arbitration panel will be brought in, if mediation does not fix the negotiating difficulties.

Baumann, who filed an unfair practice charge against the city in 2008, believes the city is engaging in the same tactics which soured negotiations last time. “The Gray administration can say whatever they want about respecting government employees, but at the end of the day, their actions speak for them,” Baumann told the Examiner. “In this case, the mayor has misled the public and the media, and there hasn’t been any progress, and both parties agreed to that.”

Police, who have not had a pay raise since the last labor agreement expired in 2007, need to agree to a new deal with the city soon, if they hope to capitalize on Mayor Gray’s promise to raise workers’ pay this year.

Grow that grass: Approving the sale of medical marijuana

Despite increasing the penalties associated with synthetic marijuana last November, the D.C. Council is very close to approving the sale of medical marijuana in the District.

Six growing sites have already been approved by the Council, and one shop is even currently ready for business, according to the Washington Post.

The largest opposition to the plan remains concern over “overconcentrations” of marijuana growing in any one ward of the city. Ward 5, in particular, already has five of the six approved growing sites.

D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie hopes to renew expired legislation from last year, limiting the number of growing centers per ward to six.

Photo: Adam Fagen via Flickr

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