- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 11, 2001

The District is at it again "it," of course, being budget shortfalls. The problem areas are the same, too public schools, public health and public safety. The projected damage is $260 million-plus. While the pertinent parties are scrambling for cover for example, the school system faces a whopper expected $98 million deficit the other bad news is that the city will tap reserves to help close various budget gaps. Ultimately, though, unless the legislative and executive branches become fiscal prudes, the city will be at it again next year.
Just last week, Congress granted final approval to the District's $5.3 billion budget plan for 2002 and increased spending and decreased revenues are at every juncture. Some notable expenditures included $62 million to restructure health care (we've heard that before), $1.2 billion in capital expenses, including $174 million for school projects, and a special $228 million appropriation for emergency response and recovery (which isn't enough). However, the revenues will not repeat will not be there to pay for the new or ongoing programs. That is mostly because the regional hospitality and tourism industry remains in an incredible post-September 11 slump, and because the new income-tax and property-tax revenues are already committed to help offset new and ongoing entitlements. Meanwhile, outrageous special-education costs (including lawyers' fees and out-of-state services) and uncollected Medicaid reimbursements continue to dog last year's budget, and will likely do the same to this year's.
If any or all of this sounds familiar, it should. Mismanagement, overspending and Democratic acrobatics had the city in the same situation more than a decade ago. In fact, the District was broke a mere six years ago, leaving local officials to plug fiscal holes with citywide furloughs and such. This time around, the same options are on the table as well as a shortened school year (after all, if students haven't learned all year, then a mere seven days surely won't turn them into dunces or send teachers to the poor house).
Unfortunately, Congress is intervening on the tail end of this very bad financial situation despite the fact that the alarms sounded long before September 11. Indeed, Rep. Connie Morella, chairman of the House Government Reform subcommittee on the District, and D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton are as derelict in their duties as Mayor Williams, D.C. Council Chairman Linda Cropp and School Board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz. At this point, after they all emerge from the woodshed, the only real hope is that belt-tightening begins immediately if not sooner.

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