On April 2, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser released her proposed FY16 budget. As with any budget, there are a lot of proposals that I could highlight. I’ve chosen to focus on three items of particular interest to Hill East:
Replacement of DC General
The Mayor’s proposed budget includes $40 million to fund 4 smaller scale homeless shelters to replace the deteriorating DC General shelter. After years of rhetoric about the need to close DC General, it is refreshing to see some actual funding in the budget to achieve this goal. While we still need to see her closure plan, Mayor Bowser deserves credit for making the closing of DC General the budget priority it should be.
Infrastructure Funding for Reservation 13/Hill East Development
I was also happy to see $11.2 million in the Mayor’s proposed capital budget for infrastructure funding for phase I of the Res. 13/Hill East Development. The 11.2 million, which would be spent over 3 years, would be used to fund the roadway extensions (Mass Ave SE, the new 20th Street SE, etc.) surrounding the Donatelli/Blue Skye mixed-use development.
While the Mayor’s FY16 capital budget includes funding for the modernization of Watkins Elementary School (30.9 million in FY16 and FY17), the budget plan further delays modernization funding for a number of other Capitol Hill schools. Long overdue modernizations at Eliot-Hine and Jefferson Academy Middle Schools are delayed until FY19. These delays are totally unacceptable, particularly in a budget document that claims to make strengthening middle schools a priority. (Councilmember David Grosso’s office has put together a nice breakdown of how the Mayor’s budget will affect school modernizations).
Look, I understand that budgeting is not easy, particularly when the city has to fill a budget gap. And DC has limited borrowing authority and must stay under a statutory debt cap. This means that Mayor Bowser and the Council have to make tough choices. I get it.
But it is hard to accept further delays to school modernizations when the same capital budget includes $106 million in new capital funding (all borrowed) for the DC United Stadium at Buzzard Point – a stadium that the DC Council’s own independent consultant estimated would provide only $40 million in benefits (and is going to eventually cost taxpayers a lot more than $106 million). So the Mayor and the Council (OK, the previous Council) have essentially prioritized a giveaway to a professional soccer team over better (and safer) school buildings. This cannot be labeled a tough choice. This can only be described as a really, really bad decision.
So while I give Mayor Bowser credit for her proposed investments in new shelters, affordable housing and Reservation 13, she also deserves criticism for supporting a soccer stadium that is taking capital dollars away from school modernizations. Hopefully, the Mayor and Council will work to restore some of this funding during consideration of the budget in April and May.