The D.C. Council on Tuesday unanimously rejected more than $17 million in popular programs proposed by Mayor Vincent C. Gray because of the would-be source of funding: an already strapped trust fund for retiree health-care costs.
The decision left Gray (D) with no immediate way to fund several proposals for new or expanded city services, including the first planned replacement of all residential trash cans in a decade .
Gray’s ambitious plans come at a time when his newly launched campaign for reelection is getting off the ground. With the city’s Democratic primary fast approaching after the holidays, the vote Tuesday was one of many entangled in politics.
Separately, over the heated objections of council member Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large), who also is running for mayor, the council shut down an attempt by Orange’s biggest campaign contributor to win a $33 million contract to service city parking meters .
Orange’s colleagues suggested that he was lobbying on behalf of a contributor, and the heated exchange that followed highlighted the council’s checkered record on ethics — a driving tension in the city’s April 1 primary.
Outsider candidates and those running on promises of reform fired off e-mail news releases and tweets as the hearing unfolded, criticizing Orange and pointing out how many members of the council over the past two years had been indicted or resigned.
Council member David Grosso (I-At Large) said from the dais that the effort to derail the bid had the “appearance of corruption.”
All four council members running for mayor seized on the last televised hearing of the year to play to unions and other potential voting blocs.
Council members and mayoral candidates Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) and Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) co-introduced a bill they said would give retroactive cost-of-living increases to 3,700 police officers and 1,700 firefighters mired in contract negotiations with Gray’s administration.
Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) proposed giving teenagers free Metro rides to summer jobs and expanding employment options for city youths.
Orange filed legislation to give teachers tax breaks, plus a bill sought by the flight attendants’ union: a resolution condemning potential action by the Federal Aviation Administration to allow the use of cellphones on airplanes.
Without debate, the council gave final approval to a plan to raise the city’s minimum wage to $11.50 by 2016 and to index it thereafter to inflation. Maryland’s Montgomery and Prince George’s counties have adopted similar legislation.
The city’s first wage bump, to $9.50 an hour, will be in July, and Gray, who had proposed a smaller overall increase to $10, said this week that he would sign the council’s bill. A study of the minimum wage his administration has ordered will proceed nonetheless, Gray said, noting “There’s certainly room for amendments” at a later date.
The council’s decision to unanimously rebuff Gray on the $17 million in new spending has the potential to be felt citywide.
Last month, Gray held a news conference in which he promised to begin replacing all of the city’s 75,000 residential “supercans” next year as well as increase the size of recycling cans for most households.