Mayor Vincent Gray Offers Up Something for Everyone in New Budget

Free Supercan trash cans for everybody.

Libraries opened on Saturdays and Sundays.

More money for both public and charter schools.

More money for police and more police officers.

Millions in new money for parks and recreation.

Millions more for new neighborhood economic projects.

Millions for low-income jobs, housing and assistance.

About $15 million in new money for nonprofits.

About $30 million for new arts and culture projects.

More bike lanes.

The first streetcar running by December.

Pay raises for all city government workers.

All that and more.

And did we mention NO tax increases and NO new fees?

You have just read a quick summary of D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray's proposed new $10 billion (that's billion) budget for 2014 that he's unveiling Thursday morning before the D.C. Council.

Unlike many struggling cities and states, the District government is flush with growing revenues and ways to spend them. It has $1.5 billion in a rainy day fund.

"A pretty good budget for the political season coming up," one official told News4 on background.

That's a reference to the 2014 mayoral race that's already under way.

Gray, who for two years has been under federal investigation for his 2010 campaign, hasn't said whether he will run for re-election if the federal probe itself doesn't sideline him. Some of his supporters are beginning to talk about whether Gray should establish a re-election campaign just to start getting ready.

Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser announced her mayoral campaign last weekend, slamming Gray's ethics and his administration. Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells is likely to jump sometime in April. And Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans says he'll be running. There could be other candidates as well.

In part to head off complaints and political opportunities for the councilmembers who'll amend it, Gray's staff met with each of the 13 members to hear what they wanted.

But back to the budget.

There is something in there pretty much for everyone.

At an embargoed staff briefing Wednesday night, News4 asked, What was the hardest political decision the mayor had to make in putting it together? The aides had no response. 

From the mundane to the municipal to the big picture, Gray touches a lot of bases. For voters -- uh, we mean city residents -- the Gray budget touches every aspect of city life. 

Right now, residents must pay more than $60 to replace Supercans that are lost, stolen or damaged. Over five years, the mayor wants every private residence to have new ones, with no replacement fee.

He also is designating more money in each of the city's eight wards for more street improvements and, for the first time, opening libraries that are now closed most of the weekends.

On public safety, Gray's staff said they met every request of both the police and fire departments. That's good news after recent stories on News4 and elsewhere about the fire department's serious equipment issues.

The mayor says the police force will be back up to full speed with 4,000 officers by fall. The aides say firefighters and police will get raises along with other city workers. Some haven't had raises in four to seven years.

For senior citizens, the mayor is promoting better food service at assisted living facilities and is supporting "aging in place" policies to keep more people in their homes.

For the young, the mayor's budget -- beyond school funding -- does more for family welfare and low-income housing.

One of the few downsides in the budget: The mayor offers little in the way of tax reductions in this high-tax city. He does propose eliminating a controversial tax the city recently imposed on out-of-state government bonds. That tax hits many retirees who depend on the investments. Almost every councilmember has been bombarded with complaints.

The mayor has entitled his budget plan "Investing for Tomorrow."

Political observers say it certainly looks ahead, at least until the April 2014 election.

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