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D.C. mayoral candidates discuss pot, windfall

Friday - 2/28/2014, 12:02am  ET

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D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, pictured earlier this month, says the District's revenue estimate for 2015 has gone up by $139 million. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON -- A mayoral debate reveals a pleasant surprise for D.C.'s finances.

The city's revenue estimate for 2014 has been increased by $2 million, and the revenue estimate for 2015 has gone up by about $130 million.

Councilmember Jack Evans said he was told of the findings Wednesday by the city's chief financial officer.

Evans made the remark while speaking at a D.C. mayoral candidate forum Thursday at George Washington University.

Mayor Vincent Gray, who is running for re-election, put the exact number at $139 million for 2015.

Evans and Gray were joined onstage by four other candidates for mayor: D.C. Councilmembers Muriel Bowser, Vincent Orange, and Tommy Wells, and attorney and former State Department official Reta Jo Lewis. Busboys and Poets owner Andy Shallal and businessman Carlos Allen were no-shows.

At the forum, which was sponsored by several area trade groups, candidates were asked what they would do with a possible budget surplus.

"I would focus on our homeless crisis," said Bowser. "We're committed to a plan that would end homelessness by 2025."

Gray reiterated an earlier plan to build up the city's cash reserves, then dedicate half of any remaining surplus to affordable housing.

Evans and Wells took a different tack: "When we get a dime we spend a dollar," Evans said. "What I'm intending to do with the money is hang on to it and not spend it." Wells agreed, saying, "That's not just found lottery money."

While the forum was focused on business issues, the candidates were asked about the hot-button issue of marijuana decriminalization. All six said they supported decriminalization at least.

"I'm interested, though, in how we move forward with taxing and regulation," said Bowser.

"I support decriminalization of marijuana," said Gray. "I think the jury's still out on legalization."

Orange said he supports a decriminalization bill that is before the council, but wants to see an amendment added that would "ban employment testing for marijuana if you've got drugs in your system, you don't get the job."

Wells went one step further. "I support legalization, but we're going to get [decriminalization] done first."

The Democratic primary is set for April 1.

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