Gray Defends Earmarks
D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) today defended efforts on the Council to load up the budget with millions of dollars of earmarks, despite efforts last year to restrain the practice.
In response to questioning from community activist and blogger Dorothy Brazile, Gray said he's hopeful the earmarks in this year's budget will not eclipse the nearly $48 million in grants doled out last year.
Concerned the grants to specific organizations were spiraling out of control, the Council approved changes in the process in January that limits the amount of grants to $250,000 for non-capital projects and $1 million for capital projects. The plan also requires groups who receive the money turn over financial information, attest to a project's worthiness and be open to spot audits.
But the money appears to be flowing again this year, including $10 million preliminarly dished out last week by the Committee on Economic Development.
Gray said he's not sure if the Council will prepare a comprehensive list of the earmarks approved by committees before the full body votes on the budget next Tuesday. But Gray said he's confident the organizations receiving the funds will be "subjected to a very high level of scrutiny."
"We put in place some guide posts that will constrain the dollars involved with earmarks," Gray said.
But Gray noted the new rules "were never intended to eliminate earmarks." He added, "A lot of good has been done by these grants," Gray said.
But Brazile asked Gray about the $1 million grant to the National Council of Negro Women placed in the budget to replace their roof. She questioned why a national organization should receive city funds when they could fundraise instead.
Gray responded that the organization, as well as other national groups that receive city money, provide services locally.
"Council members have priorities," Gray added. "They are out in their communities everyday and ...They know what a lot of these needs are so I think first, and foremost, they really have their pulse on what is needed in this city and often times organizations that are doing great work aren't being supported in a way they should be supported."
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