By C.N. Staff Writer
With only a week before the District’s City Council went on recess, council members sent a message to the mayor, overriding his veto of the 2015 fiscal year budget. The council voted 12-1 in favor of overriding his veto, with only outgoing Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) voting in favor of the mayor’s veto. Wells said, “I believe that this budget is unwise. I believe we have an emerging transit crisis. . . .”
The $10.6 billon dollar budget had some big-ticket items that mayor Gray wanted changes to that included his ambitious 22-mile streetcar system and imposes sales taxes on yoga classes and gym memberships. Many of the council members believed Gray vetoed their bill because it puts a damper on his legacy with the return of the streetcar system, a major project Gray has been touting.
Ward 8 Council member Marion Barry (D) says D.C. shouldn’t spend another dollar on what he calls a “streetcar to nowhere.” He says taxpayers will be paying $2,000 to subsidize each ride on the streetcar line. Barry said the District should be investing in shelters, apartments for the homeless and schools instead of the new rail network. Gray estimates the budget would delay the planned streetcar system until 2045.
The budget includes the District’s largest income tax cut in 15 years, among other revisions to the tax code that were recommended by an independent panel. The panel also suggested the so-called “yoga tax” as part of an effort to capture more tax revenue from non-residents. Several council members suggested the so-called “yoga tax” as part of an effort to capture more tax revenue from non-residents.
Ward 4 Councilmember and Democratic mayoral nominee Muriel Bowser, said she doesn’t support the 5.75 percent tax on health club services but would not back Gray’s veto. She said, “I recognize so many important things in this budget, including how we fund progressive and widespread tax breaks for residents and businesses in the District of Columbia.”
Tucked into the bill is a new law that establishes a permit for District breweries that will for the first time allow customers to purchase and drink the brewery’s beer while visiting the facility. Under the Manufacturer Tasting Permit Emergency Amendment Act of 2014, a brewery can apply for the new $1,000 permit.
Council Chairman Phil Mendelson defended his vote, saying the package of reforms will reduce the overall tax burden for District residents by hundreds of dollars. When fully implemented, the cuts would affect every business as well as residents earning up to $1 million annually. Gray would have needed to persuade five of the council’s 13 members to oppose the override.
Budget highlights that will take effect include:
a. the “Ban the Box” legislation, a measure banning employers from asking job applicants if they have been arrested or convicted of a crime until after an initial job offer is extended.
b. “wage theft,” which makes it a crime for employers to pay less than the minimum wage; on July 1st the District’s minimum wage rose from $8.25 to $9.50
c. decriminalizing marijuana; the council passed a measure to significantly loosen restrictions on the District’s medical marijuana program
d. the banning of foam containers;