Regional Budgets Briefing: Highlights

Washington Grantmakers - Regional Budgets Briefing
Michael Cassidy, Executive Director of the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, addresses WG members and staff

At last week’s Regional Budgets Briefing, sponsored by Washington Grantmakers’ Public Policy Committee, experts from D.C., Maryland, and Virginia explained the budget process and highlighted current and upcoming issues that impact low- and moderate-income residents. 

The District
“The budget is where all the action is,” said Ed Lazere, Executive Director of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, “There is a lot of competition for the same pot of money.” Lazere explained that the D.C. budget will be tight due to a number of new policy initiatives, increasing costs of special education and Medicaid, and a host of recent tax cuts leaving expected 2008 revenue $300 million lower than 2007.  While in the last eight years the City continued to invest in economic development and public works, education and human services remained among the slowest growing appropriations.  In addition to a message about the revenue shortfall, Lazere requested that grantmakers consider funding advocacy efforts on child care and affordable housing – among the issues most impacted in D.C.’s 2008 budget. [Lazere’s presentation (pdf)]

Virginia
“Transit is sucking all the oxygen” out of the discussion of other issues in this legislative session, commented Michael Cassidy, Executive Director of the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis. Cassidy described Virginia as a “high capacity state,” ranking 7th in the country in per-capita income, but with a low “level of effort” in terms of funds spent on social welfare. While Virginia recently cut income taxes for the working poor, Cassidy suggested healthcare reform and K-12 education “re-benchmarking” are among the state’s top priority issues – after transportation – this year. [See Cassidy’s presentation (pdf)]

Maryland
Relative to the rest of the country, Maryland’s tax structure has not kept pace with the cost of running the local government.  The result is a structural deficit – spending an estimated $1.2 billion more than anticipated tax revenues – making the budget very tight in the coming year, according to Henry Bogdan, Director of Public Policy at Maryland Nonprofits.  Bogdan asserted that phasing in the Thornton Education Fund and protecting the Chesapeake Bay will be among the state’s highest budget priorities for Maryland in 2008. [See Maryland Nonprofits’ “The Regular Person’s Guide to the Budget” (pdf)]

For information on regional budget issues and advocacy efforts, speakers suggested that funders keep tabs on the federal budget process, citing the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Coalition on Human Needs and OMB Watch as useful resources.

WG’s Public Policy Committee will monitor local budget processes and alert WG members about opportunities to advocate and support issues they care about. If you have questions or comments, post them here or contact Carolynn Mambu, Director of Public Policy, at mambu@washingtongrantmakers.org.