- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 14, 2000

Mayor Williams yesterday unveiled a modest and balanced budget for fiscal year 2001 that proposes hiring more police officers and firefighters, paying for substantial school renovations and programs, and spending more money to clean streets and alleyways, among other things. He doesn't expect much contention from the D.C. Council, except on one issue tax cuts.

The council has proposed several tax-relief measures this year, including tax cuts for the poor and a moratorium on sales taxes for parents shopping for back-to-school items. Both are necessary and timely, considering D.C. officials anticipate a surplus this fiscal year. The mayor, however, is not keen on the tax relief. He forced a similar showdown last year, when the council proposed cutting income, commercial and property taxes. Residents won that battle, but it is not yet clear whether they will win again this year although they should, for several reasons.

Sacrifices facing the Williams administration are the same ones that faced the Barry administration in 1995, when Congress instituted a control board to revamp D.C. government. Of course, the most significant difference between then and now is today's fiscal picture is far rosier than five years ago. However, the Williams administration and the Office of the Chief Financial Officer will be held accountable for holding down spending, trimming the bureaucracy and expanding the District's tax base to pay for significant increases in proposed spending for social service and health care entitlements. Mr. Williams vowed to meet those initiatives, saying in an interview that he is committed to living within the city's means and recommitted to rooting out waste, fraud and abuse. He gets no argument here. In fact, this page endorses many of his strategic policies, especially those that focus on children and families, and neighborhood development. Yet spending more money does not necessarily mean more or better services.

In recent times, the city got itself into trouble not for lack of money but because there were too many people in too many jobs with no supervision. There are still too many. Satisfactory job evaluations were granted throughout city government while basic services were cut back. While there are several thousand fewer city employees, the city could stand to lose hundreds more if bureaucrats, especially middle managers, are warned to produce or get off the city's dime.

Mr. Williams, the District's former chief financial officer, knows that taxpayers want a lean and efficient government, a cleaner and safer city and better schools. And, while this is only his second year in office, he also knows that he was elected to reform the slovenly bureaucracy.

The mayor ought to realize that tax cuts do expand a city's revenue base by attracting residents. Furthermore, there are better and easier ways to improve public safety, keep neighborhoods clean, plow the snow and educate youth than by merely spending more on the city's payroll. Suffice it to say, when Mr. Williams was CFO, his fiscal consciousness was far keener than his political self is today.

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