D.C. budget breakdown: City transportation changes and more help for low-income housing

Last week, the D.C. Council approved a record $12.1 billion city budget for fiscal 2014. The new budget, which likely will be officially passed next month, includes several key changes to city transportation and low-income housing.

Circulator bus service, for example, has been extended significantly. Beginning by early July, the Circulator will reach U Street and Howard University, Southwest Washington, Glover Park, and the Washington National Cathedral.  Additionally, a new Circulator service will offer tourists and other visitors a bus route along the National Mall in 2015.

“The combination of those expansions will put the Circulator very extensively around the District,” Council Member and Committee on Transportation and the Environment Chair Mary M. Cheh said, according to the Post. “The ability for people to get around is absolutely key to our continued economic growth, and the Circulator has been very popular because it’s very reliable.”

The service improvements come with a fare hike, however, and Circulator riders will pay $1.50 with a SmarTrip card and $2 without one per ride. Cheh explained that the new Circulator costs are in line with what other public transit users are already paying for their Metrobus routes. The higher fares will help cover the costs associated with the service expansion.

The 2014 budget also changes the way D.C. taxes gas. Instead of taxing consumers 23.5 cents per gallon of gas, D.C. will levy an 8.3 percent tax on the wholesale purchase of gasoline. So, while consumers will no longer pay a gas tax in the District, the cost of gas in D.C. will not fall, as gas companies will pass along the cost of their new taxes.

This change is intended to make the city’s gas tax revenue more predictable and less dependent on which cars consumers in the District drive. “When you go out and buy a Ford Focus, your gas mileage is better than it was with your old Range Rover, so you buy less gas,” D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said, according to DCist. “This removes the volatility from our gas tax.”

The city added several changes to low-income housing assistance, which is consistent with the way Mayor Vincent Gray spent some of the District’s over $400 million budget surplus. The D.C. Council will direct an additional $1.75 million to the local rent voucher supplement program, $500,000 to the emergency rental assistance program, and $3.6 million to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, according to DCist.

While Gray approves of the new budget, there are some in D.C.’s government that find it to be inadequate. At-large Councilmember David Catania, who chairs the Education Committee, believes D.C. public schools are improperly funded for fiscal 2014, because school funding grew by only 1 percent, compared to an overall budget growth of 6 percent.

“The mayor is assigning the children of our city, especially the poor ones, to a continued diminished future,” Catania said, according to DCist.

Photo: aresauburn via Flickr

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