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DC Council’s Budget Override Deals Another Blow to Lame Duck Vince Gray

The outgoing mayor couldn’t change a single Council member’s mind.

Photograph by Flickr user Chesapeake Bay Program.

Mayor Vince Gray’s long exit got even lamer Monday when the DC Council refused to budge in the face of his veto last week of the city’s $10.6 billion budget for the 2015 fiscal year. Even with Gray’s strongly worded letter full of economic doomsaying last Friday, he failed to change any council members’ minds in today’s override vote.

Just like the council’s original budget vote in June, council members lined up 12-1 in support of their spending plan, with Tommy Wells remaining the lone voice of opposition, largely over the budget’s cutting of long-term streetcar funding. Beside halving the money committed for the still-unlaunched light rail system, the budget also includes a series of personal and business income-tax cuts and a sales-tax expansion that covers services such as gym memberships and fitness classes, a measure which has been derided as a “yoga tax.”

But judging that Gray’s office blasted out a statement expressing his “disappointment” at the veto override just moments after the vote, it’s clear the mayor expected another defeat.

More indicative of Gray’s increasing lame duckiness might be that none of the several council members with misgivings about the budget could be swayed toward abandoning their support. Outgoing council member Jim Graham, who is wary of what he sees as drastic cuts to social welfare programs, said an indifferent remark made by one of Gray’s deputies to the Washington Post about raccoon infestations at the decrepit DC General homeless shelter hurt the mayor’s case.

“That’s not what I want to hear,” Graham said.

Gray was also unsuccessful in convincing the two council members gunning for his job. Democratic nominee Muriel Bowser said she still opposes the sales-tax expansion, but did not agree with Gray’s assessment that the budget will curtail the next mayor’s ability spend city funds. David Catania complained that Council Chairman Phil Mendelson rushed the budget through without giving members enough time to review it fully, but said anything unsavory can be tweaked down the road.

“Nothing is forever,” he said.

Even if Gray had succeeded in getting the five votes needed to sustain his veto, he would have likely ended up looking at the exact same budget instead of what he preferred. Council member Jack Evans said at least seven of his colleagues would vote for the budget as it exists again.

One more possible reason for the council’s speedy rebuke of Gray: vacation plans, which the mayor asked members to delay by a month to rewrite the budget. Now that the veto has been defeated, the budget now goes to its congressional review stage, while the council goes on break until September.

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