Hiring, promotion freezes set for D.C.

More taxes, layoffs also on the table

Facing a projected $175 million deficit in the fiscal year that began Friday, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty plans to issue an executive order that will freeze hiring and promotions to help curb spending.

The move came at the behest of D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, the mayor’s likely successor who will start a town-hall listening tour Tuesday.

Layoffs, tax and fee increases, curbing travel and additional budget cuts also are on the table. Mr. Gray said he hopes to have a final plan by the end of October, before voters return to the polls for the Nov. 2 general election.

But the freeze on hiring and promotions is a stopgap measure to which Mr. Gray and the mayor agreed.

“It’s an immediate action until we have more permanent approaches,” Mr. Gray said Monday, adding that when it comes to cutting the 2011 budget, it’s already pretty much “down to the bone marrow.”

Mr. Gray and Mr. Fenty, who promised a smooth transition after losing the Sept. 14 Democratic primary to Mr. Gray, must still work with the council on other measures to trim spending. Mr. Gray, who drew heavy support from unions, said layoffs in city government employment rolls are on the table.

“I don’t rule out anything,” he said.

Talk about stemming the red ink follows two recent bits of bad economic news that has advocates for D.C.’s poor again pushing for income tax increases.

The U.S. Census Bureau said D.C. poverty rates are broadening and deepening, and the D.C. office of the chief financial officer warned of a pending $175 million deficit in fiscal 2011. The major problems are an estimated $100 million loss in sales and income tax revenue, and overspending on schools and human services.

Discussions on how to bridge both gaps could look like a replay of City Hall’s spring showdown, when safety-net proponents pushed tax increases and the mayor proposed increasing fees and parking rates as well.

A “good place” to start would be with tax increases on wealthier residents, suggests the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, a liberal think tank.

Asked whether the city can close a $175 million budget gap with program cuts alone, council member Phil Mendelson said, “No.”

Council member Michael A. Brown also is considering reintroducing his “millionaires tax” proposal, which the council voted down in the spring.

The lead role falls to the mayor because he remains the city’s chief executive. But Mr. Gray is the politician who has to reconcile any policy differences among his 12 colleagues — most of whom are, like him, in election-campaign mode.

Some of them, including council member Jim Graham, who is up for re-election, and Mr. Brown, who is not, support income tax increases.

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About the Author
Deborah Simmons

Deborah Simmons

Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...

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