Council chair presses for restrictions on Gray’s budget power

Council chair presses for restrictions on Gray’s budget power

Alan Blinder, Examiner Staff Writer, Mon, 2012-04-16 22:22

The chairman of the D.C. Council wants to force the mayor to receive the legislative branch’s permission before reallocating public dollars during this year’s budget review period.

Under emergency legislation Council Chairman Kwame Brown will move to a vote on Tuesday, Mayor Vincent Gray would be required to submit to the council for review any proposed changes of less than $500,000 to the capital budget. The mandate would only be in effect during the 56-day budget review period, which ends in mid-May.

"The current situation makes it extremely difficult for the council to make future capital budget policy decisions based on complete information," Brown wrote in a resolution accompanying his legislation. "This emergency legislation would improve budget transparency and enhance the council’s ability to conduct rigorous oversight of the capital budget."

The proposed rules would require Gray to submit any changes, known as "reprogrammings," to the council. If no legislators objected during a five-day waiting period, the reallocations would be approved.

But if a lawmaker opposed the changes, the waiting period would be extended to 30 days. If the council did not vote for or against the requested reprogrammings during that time, the mayor’s request would be allowed to move forward.

Pedro Ribeiro, a mayoral spokesman, said Brown’s proposal is "immensely ill-conceived and raises some serious questions and could seriously damage the way government actually functions in the District."

But Megan Vahey, Brown’s chief of staff, said the proposal isn’t a power-grab and is similar to restrictions other governments have imposed.

"We can’t have a moving target when we are doing our oversight," Vahey said. "We’re not asking the administration to change the way they do business. All we really need to know is how the capital budget is being changed.” Brown’s legislation would also require the mayor to disclose any holds or freezes on capital project spending.

"We have no idea that this money exists," Vahey said. "It just doesn’t show up in the budget book. "Although the new rules as written would apply only to the current budget review cycle, Vahey said Brown would explore making the changes permanent.

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