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Budget report takes aim at DC's free bus funding

D.C.'s Chief Financial Officer Glen Lee paints a grim picture of the District's budget in the coming years.

WASHINGTON — A new budget report from D.C.'s Chief Financial Officer Glen Lee paints a grim picture of the District's budget in the coming years, and specifically addresses a plan for fare-free bus rides, saying it could be on the chopping block. Lee's predictions show tax revenue dropping by a whopping $464 million between 2024 and 2027.

The report, released Wednesday, also points to the shift toward more remote work, and empty office space as the reason for deteriorating property values. Lee says a pessimistic economic outlook overall is also to blame.

"The expansion of remote work, coupled with higher interest rates, pose a serious long-term risk to the District’s economy and its tax base," Lee writes in his report. 

The CFO's report revised revenue estimates downward by $81 million in Fiscal Year 2024, $183 million in FY 2025, and by approximately $200 million in FY 2026.   

Lee singles out free Metrobus rides is his report. He said the Fare-Free  Bus Funding Emergency Amendment Act of 2022 would not be able to be funded to to the revised downward estimates.

"[T]he funding criteria for the Act will not be met due to lack of sufficient excess recurring revenue," the report says.

DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen fired back at Lee after the report was released.

After my briefing on the revenue estimates yesterday (in which the CFO did not choose to mention fare free buses) the CFO released the revenue estimate which backs out the funding that the Council set aside for fare free buses,” Mendelson said. “I, together with Councilmember Allen, have asked the Council’s General Counsel and Budget Director to look at the legal basis for CFO’s actions in the revenue estimate.”

Allen said he was concerned by what he read in the report, saying it appears the CFO is decertifying funds it had just certified two months ago.

"It’s the Council’s job - not the CFO’s - to make policy decisions about how to spend our dollars. I’m also concerned with the CFO’s pattern of vastly underestimating District revenues – by more than $800 million in FY22 and so far, updating their anticipated assumptions for revenue by $128 million for this year. This has a very real impact on residents, workers, and businesses, especially the majority of bus riders who make less than $50,000 – here, it could mean a delay in riders having the fare-free and improved bus service that would have started this summer. Chairman Mendelson and I will work with our colleagues to make the tough choices necessary in the budget process to ensure safe streets and deliver on the District’s economic recovery. We need to do this this year.”

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