- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 20, 2000

Mayor Anthony Williams and the D.C. Council must trim $80 million in proposed spending from the FY 2001 budget. The dollar amount is not a moving target, and it does not represent the general direction in which the elected leadership must move. The $80 million represents the cold and hard realities of D.C. policies past and present.

In the past, D.C. officials spent money the city did not have, and results were disastrous. The work force and welfare rolls mushroomed, costly homeless and unemployment programs overshadowed educational and public-safety priorities, and the overall costs of living and doing business in the city spun into bureaucratic overdrive. The free-for-all spending and lack of a safety net pushed the city to the brink of bankruptcy. Those days were not so long ago.

Yet, at present, the city is turned toward a similar fate because the mayor and the council have yet to grasp the budget knife as they mark up the FY 2001 budget. While some council members believe the city needs to make only $60 million in cuts, the reality is even more needs to be sliced away to ensure the District has a sizable safety net if the economy goes south. As things now stand, revenue and spending projections from this day forward to 2004 are just too close for comfort.

Although some folks in town are bound to disagree, the proposed 2001 spending plan could stand trimming. Consider the Williams administration's "commitment" to save money by cutting about 1,000 jobs from the District's bloated work force by Oct. 1. Interestingly, agency budgets now before the council propose hiring even more employees. The poorly managed Department of Public Works, for one, cut 63 positions in the current budget only to turn around and propose to hire 65 new workers in FY 2001. Likewise, the Department of Health wants D.C. taxpayers to pay for 40 new hires, Human Services has plans for 63, the Office of the City Administrator 27, and the Office of the Mayor wants to hire seven new workers. D.C. Public Schools, meanwhile, proposes maintaining its current work force level, while the public charter school budget is threatened with cuts.

Something is wrong with these fiscal priorities, which clearly reveal inconsistencies voiced by the mayor and the council. Understandably, their job has been made somewhat difficult because the chief financial officer has failed to produce the annual comprehensive audit, which lawmakers and the mayor rely on to plan for future spending. Nonetheless, the difficult choices must be made.

Rolling back tax cuts already on the books is not an option, and the modest tax cuts proposed this year ought not to be touched either. Indeed the mayor and the council must display fiscal discipline and adjust the spending side of the ledger, the same belt-tightening methods carried out in the late 1990s. "The council is saddled with a lot of difficult decisions," Finance and Revenue Chairman Jack Evans told this page Tuesday. "People are up for re-election and we've got to navigate this budget. But this is what our job is. This is the hard part." Mr. Evans, as usual, hit the proverbial budget nail on the head. It is to be hoped the mayor will work with the council to do the same.

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