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NIF Money Becomes Council Earmarks

Controversy over the Neighborhood Investment Fund, a pool of money that is supposed to be used to better the city's neglected neighborhoods, continued today when council members ended up using $10 million of it for earmarks.

Activists and some council members are now scrambling to undo the work of the Committee on Economic Development. At a budget markup, there was a 4 to 1 vote to split about $10 million among various nonprofits.

Council member Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large), chairman of the committee, was the dissenter. "Some of them, (earmarks) I thought were worthy, but they were outside of the requirements for the Neighborhood Investment Fund," he said.

Ed Lazere, director of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, said the earmarks appear to be targeting organizations that might have been assisted through the fund anyway. But the committee's actions skipped over the process of getting community input as required by the terms of the fund. "Clearly, this was not neighborhood-led. It also shows that the desire for earmarks is strong," Lazere said.

Brown said he had already told his colleagues that he did not want earmarks to come out of his committee, but he was outnumbered. Committee members Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7), Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) voted in favor of re-distributing the dollars.

"I didn't do any earmarks," Alexander said. "These were one-time grants with the Neighborhood Investment Fund. That's what it's for...I invested in my Ward 7 community."

Alexander said several other committees are also distributing "grants."

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's administration was already being criticized for using the money for projects outside of neighborhoods. For example, Fenty proposed transferring $1.6 million to the Commission on Arts and Humanities, which would give the money to more national groups, like the John F. Kennedy Performing Arts Center.

Brown had nixed that proposal.

Wilson Building sources say the earmarks began when Evans, known for his support of the arts, said he wanted to restore that money. "He got the party started," a Wilson Building staffer quipped.

Then other council members added their ideas.

Chatter is that Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D), who has tried to curb the council's use of earmarks, will step in before the budget goes to the council for a vote.

By Nikita R Stewart  |  April 29, 2009; 4:46 PM ET
Categories:  D.C. Council  
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