VIA THE WASHINGTON POST:
Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s proposed budget for fiscal 2011 relies on at least $72 million in new and increased fees and penalties as part of an effort to close a $523 million shortfall.
The budget, which Fenty (D) submitted to the D.C. Council last week, proposes dozens of new fees. Parents trying to enroll children in special education programs, for instance, would be charged if they wanted hearing transcripts. And groups would have to pay to hold meetings in the historic Charles Sumner School, at 17th and M streets NW.
At the same time, Fenty is looking to boost the city’s income from established revenue sources. His budget would raise residential and metered parking fees to generate $4.8 million.
In response to attempts to reach city officials, Fenty spokeswoman Mafara Hobson said Thursday that the city administrator, Neil O. Albert, was not available to comment.
“The proposed 2011 budget allows the Administration to maximize efficiency by streamlining agency operations, controlling spending and eliminating vacant and redundant positions,” she said in a statement.
But Fenty and his opponents in this year’s mayoral race, including D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D), can expect to hear the ire of residents on the campaign trail.
“Charging for use of the Sumner School is akin to charging patrons to use the public library, or students to attend the public schools,” Parisa Norouzi, director of Empower DC, an advocacy group for low- and moderate-income residents and a government watchdog, wrote in an e-mail.
Special education advocate Doreen Hodges said in an interview that parents are already juggling the needs of their children and that under Fenty’s budget, they would also have to worry about fees for transcripts, which are often helpful in the application process.
“There’s no profit in this,” Hodges said. “What is the purpose of charging for something like that?”
The operating budget calls for $5.3 billion in local funds, and it grows to $8.9 billion with federal funds. With capital projects, total spending would rise to $11 billion.
Fenty is seeking to raise more than $28 million by increasing fines for 71 traffic violations, including running a red light and speeding.
John Townsend, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said he attended an Advisory Neighborhood Commission meeting in Ward 4 Tuesday night and that residents complained of a recent barrage in parking tickets.
He said elected officials are “trying to sell it as ‘it’s all commuters.’ But [residents] said, ‘This affects us.’ ”
Townsend said the city is no longer saying that traffic fines and parking fees are being increased to curb and slow traffic.
“What the city has done is removed the veneer that this is about traffic or safety. It’s about revenue,” Townsend said of the parking fees and traffic fines. “I genuinely worry that residents, motorists can become ATM machines.”
Businesses could pass along to consumers the costs of new and increased fees. In one case, Zipcar, the car-sharing service, would have to start paying for the use of parking spaces around the city. In another, intercity bus services such as Boltbus and Megabus would pay for permits to load and unload passengers on city streets. Combined the two actions would produce $490,000 for city coffers, according to the proposed budget.
Timothy Stokes, a Boltbus spokesman, said fees vary from city to city. “In general, we respect any fees if they apply to all curbside carriers,” he said. He said he did not know how the fees would affect riders.
Ed Lazere, executive director of the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, said the mayor’s hands were tied by his campaign promise not to impose new taxes. Although Lazere endorsed some of the proposals, such as the higher residential parking fee, he said restructuring taxes, particularly when done in a way that protects low-income residents, is a more prudent approach to generating revenue.
“We’re sort of going back to this well,” he said of the fee proposals. “It wouldn’t be surprising that residents are frustrated about the way the mayor is trying to get us out of this terrible budget crisis.”