Council Wraps Up Budget Season, Expands Voting Options for November Election

With a unanimous second of two necessary votes in support of the Budget Support Act (BSA) at its most recent Legislative Meeting, the Council wrapped up this year’s annual (though shortened, and first-of-its-kind virtual) budget season.

However, during these uncertain COVID times more than ever, it is important to remember that each quarter, when the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) releases revised revenue estimates, this can impact previously-balanced budgets. In recent years, revenue estimates often underestimated revenue, which then allowed for additional spending or savings. But, given the impact of COVID on our local economy, a revised revenue estimate could possibly lead to a shortfall that needs to be addressed through budget cuts, new replacement revenue, or a combination of the two. Revised revenue estimates are generally released by the CFO in late February, June, September, and December. Because of the onset of the COVID pandemic this year, a special revenue estimate was released in late April instead of in June. With the next estimate expected in late August, there will be a four-month interval between estimates instead of the usual three.

The BSA, which passed the Council the first time on July 7, is designed to include legislative changes embodied in the more dollars-and-cents Local Budget Act. That bill received its second and final approval at the Council’s prior Legislative Meeting. Included in the final version of the BSA were provisions to:

  • extend the current rent control law for ten more years (though discussions continue for further reform)
  • provide tax incentives for the construction of affordable housing in neighborhoods where it is particularly unaffordable
  • expand eligibility for a COVID-era cash grant measure, administered via Events DC, so that it covers other informal/cash economy workers who are excluded from receiving Unemployment Insurance and other government benefits
  • permanently rename the October holiday previously known as “Columbus Day” as “Indigenous Peoples’ Day”
  • require (with limited exceptions) charter school meetings to comply with the Open Meetings Act
  • create an expiring, but renewable, term of office for the Chief of Police
  • ban any expenditures by Events DC to persuade the Washington Football Team to return to RFK Stadium, or to purchase the stadium site

In other action at the most recent Legislative Meeting, the Council unanimously supported an expansion of voting for the upcoming November election. The bill requires the Board of Elections to open a minimum of 80 polling places (up from the 40 that were open during the primaries). Additionally, the bill requires that a vote-by-mail ballot be sent to every registered voter, along with a postage-paid return envelope. Finally, the bill requires the Board of Elections to open a voting center for incarcerated individuals, who were re-enfranchised by recent Council action.

Another measure that passed at the most recent meeting provides local businesses with economies-of-scale access to Personal Protective Equipment for their employees, helping to bring down costs as they meet the terms of the Mayor’s Orders on COVID. The bill also protects workers from COVID-related retaliation by employers.

The Council’s next Legislative Meeting is scheduled for September 22.