WASHINGTON — D.C.'s auditor is sounding the alarm over Mayor Muriel Bowser's proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2020.
Mayor Bowser unveiled her budget last week. It includes an array of big initiatives that have been applauded by residents around the city.
The mayor wants to set aside $20 million for creating 1,000 units of workforce housing for the city's middle class. She's proposed spending $122 million to create a K-Street Transitway that would provide buses dedicated lanes in the middle of that downtown thoroughfare. Her office also envisions a $56 million increase in funding for the District's public traditional and charter schools.
The mayor's budget is balanced and has been examined by the city's chief financial officer, according to the Office of Budget and Performance Management.
However, D.C. Auditor Kathy Patterson said she's still concerned that it spends too much money at a time where revenue is not growing as fast in the District.
Patterson said the Fiscal Year 2020 budget would bring a 8.2 percent increase in spending compared to Fiscal Year 2019. At the same time, revenue growth in D.C. is expected to hover around three percent in the coming fiscal year.
"When there is a hint of spending more money in a budget year than we are taking in, that raises concerns," she said.
In a press release, Patterson added that the mayor's budget is "not fiscally responsible" or "sustainable".
"Raising taxes to have a balanced budget this year means that spending is part of the base," Patterson said. "We have to raise taxes again to keep that level going. It's something that can't be sustained over time."
Patterson, a former council member, said a similar financial strategy landed the District in trouble 25 years ago. She said when the District allowed growth in spending to exceed revenue growth in the budget, the city almost went bankrupt.
"When a city goes through that kind of crisis that this city went through 25 years ago, what the policy makers had to do then, my baptism by fire as a council member, was cut programs, cut jobs and reduce wages," she said.
Jenny Reed, the mayor's director of budget and performance management, did not agree with the auditor's findings.
She said the mayor and city leaders will adjust future budgets accordingly based upon what each year brings.
"Each and every year, we take a look at the available resources that we have and the investments that we know that we need to make in our community to keep it moving forward," Reed said. "And, we will do that year after year and figure out how best to divvy up those resources to make the investments in affordable housing, schools [and] in roads."
She added the items proposed in the mayor's budget are what residents have asked for and that the city has a firm financial footing to provide such services.
"The District of Columbia's economy is still very healthy and even though our revenues might be slowing down, our need to improve schools isn't. Our need to create more affordable housing isn't," Reed said.
The D.C. Council will hear testimony on the mayor's budget for the next two months before it ultimately decides on a final version of the proposal.