- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 9, 1999

The D.C. Council is being made out to be the Grinch who stole Christmas, and that just is not fair.
During Tuesday’s council session, a majority of members voted down Mayor Williams’ attempts to use about $10 million from the tobacco settlement fund to pay for special pay packages for city employees. The mayor and the unions had promised the checks by Dec. 15, just in time for a little extra holiday cheer.
But then some people began asking awkward questions about the mayor’s generosity. Congress rightly questioned whether such bonuses were in the best interests of taxpayers. Then the council chimed in with its own concerns. Jack Evans, the council’s finance and revenue whiz, said Mr. Williams’ proposal to use the tobacco funds is “irresponsible.” The concerns of both legislatures essentially forced Mr. Williams’ hands, hands which, by the way, held a conspicuously tight grip on the city’s purse strings for nearly three years.
Historically speaking, whenever such immediate budget issues arose, the council and whoever happened to be mayor at the time did what is commonly called reprogramming; that is rob Peter’s programs to fund Paul’s. The fiscal shenanigans (and subsequent negative consequences) became legendary during the Barry and Kelly administrations. As a matter of fact, the quality of life in the nation’s capital is still suffering from those irresponsible deeds and, to be sure, it was somewhat disappointing to see Mr. Williams, the former chief financial officer, focus on spending first and savings second. Oh well.
All, however, is not lost this go around. The primary reason Congress and taxpayers were keen on the idea of the special pay packages, which includes millions in bonuses and severance pay for thousands of frontline workers and their bosses, was that of potential cost savings this and next fiscal year as well as the potential for a leaner and more efficient bureaucracy. Besides, all the District’s top stakeholders had agreed to use the city’s $1.2 billion share of the tobacco settlement to offset rising health care costs. Any reasonable politician (even Mr. Williams, who views the council’s rejection as a personal affront), would see that using those funds would have put the council and the mayor at odds down the road.
At this juncture, Mr. Williams must make the tough call and use agency dollars to fund the bonuses and severance packages. His hand-picked directors ought not have too much difficulty making those budgetary ends meet his overarching policy goals. That’s the only right way to do it.

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