- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 17, 2012

D.C. Council members on Tuesday worried that friction with Mayor Vincent C. Gray is “escalating dramatically” because of contentious mid-year spending plans that are causing heartburn around city hall.

Lawmakers have sparred with Mr. Gray over his supplemental budget proposal, which is meant to tackle funding needs that arise during the fiscal year from unforeseen circumstances or agency overspending.

The city’s elected officials are divided over questions that include how to fund the city’s priorities without wasting money, whether furloughed city employees should be reimbursed and if it is wise to pass spending plans partway through the year.

Ultimately, the council agreed on Tuesday to act on two appropriations within Mr. Gray’s plan - $7 million for the D.C. Public Charter Schools and $8 million for the Unemployment Compensation Fund.

Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown said the items represented the most urgent needs, although the mayor’s spokesman, Pedro Ribeiro,argued the council was “kicking the can down the road” on other priorities.

Mr. Brown responded by saying Mr. Ribeiro was “clueless” on the issue, although moments later he told reporters he does not see the budget disagreements as part of a major rift with Mr. Gray. His spokeswoman later said the chairman “meant no harm” by his initial comment.

For now, the city’s supplemental budget for fiscal year 2012 leaves out a controversial initiative to reimburse city employees for unpaid furloughs they took last year, although some council members promised labor unions they would make it happen in light of higher-than-expected revenues at the end of last year.

Mr. Brown said the reimbursement could cost more than $25 million, prompting council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, to say the price tag could “temper [his] interest in doing that.”

Mr. Brown said he wants to see an official proposal from the mayor that outlines how much money is available to repay city workers. Depending on the amount, the city might be able to form a package that repays city workers for two days, provides some tax relief for residents and funds affordable housing and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.

But the most bizarre developments in the council’s daylong stab at the mayor’s budgetary wishes began over orange juice and Danish at the council’s breakfast - after city denizens stepped outside to watch the Space Shuttle Discovery fly overhead atop a 747.

Council Secretary Nyasha Smith said the mayor’s office had not officially transmitted a supplemental budget bill to the council, despite Mr. Gray’s position letter which indicates a plan was conveyed on March 29.

Mr. Brown said the council on that date only received a list of recommendations. He also insisted the council has been a responsible party in the talks by finding additional savings for the city and meeting with the mayor during the spring recess.

Mr. Ribeiro later contended the mayor sent a bill to the council in January and members were free to amend it as they please based on the mayor’s recommendation two months later.

But council members were taken aback when a member of the mayor’s staff walked into the breakfast with the mayor’s position letter clipped to a new version of the spending bill they had been discussing, mere moments before the legislators were supposed to take the dais and cast votes.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” council member David A. Catania, at-large independent who has served on the body since the late 1990s, said of the late arrival.

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