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Some Thoughts About the Mayor’s Proposed Budget and its Positive Impact for Life in the City

Last month in this space the headline summarized our genuine concern about the need to be prudent about spending by simply stating the obvious: “With Sequestration Now a Reality the City Council Will Need to be Especially Prudent.” Having now taken a first look at the Mayor’s proposed budget it appears that our concerns are being addressed. Yet, at the same time, we are pleased to note that quality of life initiatives so important to ensuring that this is a city which will retain and grow its citizenry are not being short-changed.

At the top of our list is the $8 million targeted for making possible the operation of both the Martin Luther King, Jr. main library and all of the branch libraries across the city on Sundays. We know this has been an important priority of Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, who also chairs the Committee on Finance. We are pleased that the Mayor recognizes the importance of making these facilities available to all on a day that for so many is the only day free, including the ever-increasing numbers of youths being drawn to the marvelous new and refurbished branch libraries that Chief Librarian Ginnie Cooper has brought on line thanks to her vision and extraordinary management.

And there is even more good news for our library system: The Mayor has indicated his commitment to keeping the MLK main library in its Mies van der Rohe-designed building rather than former Mayor Williams’ ill-conceived idea to give up on this internationally famous architect’s single contribution to our city in favor of building anew at the old convention center site a few blocks north.

Underscoring this commitment, the Mayor has included in his budget $103 million for the much needed total overhaul of the now 40-year-old mechanical systems and interior re-design to meet the needs of 21st century users; back in 1973 there was no internet and the notion of digital media was only a gleam in the eye of visionaries. (For background, see our extensive report of a year ago, “Disposition or Retention of MLK Main Library Building Subject of In-Depth Report to Guide DC Library Trustees,” InTowner, March 2012 issue PDF page 1;

Also important is the need to provide support for the District’s myriad, mostly small, theater companies, arts and cultural organizations, and artist support groups that provide an urban vibrancy which is an important element in drawing talented and creative people to become part of our neighborhoods. Beyond this is the dollars and cents reality that what might be labeled as the “cultural sector” plays a major role in the local economy through employment and sales –- and not just within the arts community itself; the positive impact on the hospitality sector is enormous. Consider, for example, how the dynamic presence of the just the Studio Theatre alone at 14th and P Streets, NW has brought so much restaurant and retail business to not only the 14th Street Arts Overlay district but to U Street and beyond.

It is unfortunate that it is apparently not possible this time around to include in the budget the same $6 million or so allocation to the arts and humanities commission that Councilmember Evans’ committee had been able to provide last year. Nevertheless, through a proposed more than $2 million increase in the commission’s capital budget, Evans believes this “countervailing increase” in the commission’s budget will serve as a partial offset. Further, Evans has called attention to a provision that allows for non-profit arts organizations to apply for grants from the Mayor’s $15 million One City Fund for up to $100,000 per year for a total of $300,000.

We share Evans’ “hope” that both the above-mentioned “funding sources will be used to backfill the other reductions and make sure that our arts community continues to provide important educational and economic development benefits to our city.”