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Activists Call for D.C. Budget Transparency

A coalition of advocacy groups led by the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute is calling on District officials to provide greater transparency as they develop the fiscal 2010 budget. Allowing citizens to understand and participate in creating the budget "is critical to promoting a healthy discussion of budget priorities, enabling the DC Council to perform its agency oversight functions, and empowering residents to hold public officials accountable for the delivery of public services," the group said in a letter to city officials..

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) is scheduled to submit his 2010 budget proposal to the D.C. Council on March 20, and mayoral budget aides are scrambling to close a revenue gap that has grown to nearly $800 million, according to D.C. CFO Natwar Gandhi. That represents about 15 percent of last year's $5.4 billion budget in local funds--a gap that matches those facing Maryland and Virginia.

Some areas that already have been hit hard by the budget crunch are affordable housing and health care. At a meeting yesterday with Gandhi, council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) asked Gandhi how much money is slated to go to the Housing Production Trust Fund, which is dedicated to creating affordable units for low-income residents.

The fund is tied directly to the amount the city earns in property taxes. During the flush times, that meant the fund increased rapidly along with the market--which was the point of tying the two together. To the chagrin of many council members, the fund now is dipping precipitously. Two years ago, that fund got $59 million, but it is scheduled to receive $22 million in 2009 and $17 million in 2010, Gandhi said.

The D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute often lobbies for affordable housing. In a report related to the letter to city leaders, the organization offered the following 10 strategies to improving transparency:

Develop meaningful narrative descriptions of each agency's programs and services
Include narrative descriptions of all new policy initiatives in a proposed budget
Restructure each agency's budget line items to better match its programs and services
Develop program performance measures for each agency that reflect an agency's most important services
Expand online budget information, including making "CFO Source" available to the public
Include information on the revised current-year budget when the proposed budget for the upcoming year is submitted
Provide explanations when programs are re-organized or moved from one agency to another
Eliminate the double-counting of funds that are transferred from one agency to another
Improve the reporting of funds in "special purpose" accounts
Improve the reporting of expenditure of federal funds

By David A Nakamura  |  February 26, 2009; 11:59 AM ET
Categories:  Affordable Housing , City Finances  
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Comments

Good Luck. Transparency is a word to be "spoken" not a strategy to be "followed" by the Fenty administration.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | February 27, 2009 10:02 AM | Report abuse

As Mr. Nakamura probably knows, the Council of the District of Columbia passed emergency legislation, Act 18-0011, that requires DC Public Schools to release its detailed budget at least 21 days before the Mayor's budget submission to the Council. The Mayor is required to submit his budget to the Council on March 20, accordingly the DC Public Schools' budget should be released today.

Also, the Mayor on Friday, 27 February 2009 the D.C. Register published a notice of a mayoral hearing on the DC Public Schools budget for Tuesday, 3 March 2009. It is unfortunate Mr. Nakamura and The Washington Post editorial board do not write and inform the public the legislation requires the Mayor to provide at least fifteen days prior notice of the hearing.

Robert Vinson Brannum
rbrannum@robertbrannum.com

Posted by: robert158 | February 27, 2009 12:20 PM | Report abuse

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