- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 22, 2003

Last summer, as fiscal 2002 drew to a close, the District faced a $323 million deficit a shortfall largely due to overspending. Since then, difficult calls by Mayor Williams, the D.C. Council and the Office of the Chief Financial Officer not only closed that gap, but earned the District a clean audit. We commend them for making some tough spending choices during these especially tough times, since revenues have been declining since the September 11 terror attacks. That the national economy remains sluggish, of course, hasn't helped, and earlier forecasts of recovery, anticipated for mid-2003, may not occur until 2004. So, like states, the District will face still tougher financial times over the course of the next few years.

Already, the District faces a $128 million shortfall for this fiscal year, the end of which is seven months out. As with last year, the gap stems from overspending and a decline in revenues. Health care for the indigent and jobless costs are up, for example, while tourism, a traditional source of huge revenues, continues to decline. Also, heightened security both as war looms, in general, and as the seat of the federal government, in particular have increased the costs of public safety and health care as well. Moreover, spending for those programs will rise still further as the District implements additional public safety, vaccination and other precautions as necessary bioterror defenses. To relieve these and other pressures in the near-term, officials plan to tap reserves and trim services, which seem to be the right call, because, if spending is not curbed immediately, the financial situation will only worsen.

In announcing the 2003 shortfall on Thursday, the mayor vowed to "face this challenge without gimmicks and without games" and to look into the future to make sure recurring budget pressures are fixed once and for all." The Williams administration has shown few signs of the fiscal chicanery of past mayor's, but we are concerned about the political games played by City Hall. Several lawmakers made their own vows that is, to protect the funding under their respective chairmanships. Meanwhile, Council Chairman Linda Cropp said that "everything" will be considered.

We hope the mayor and chairman stick to their word, and that, in the coming weeks, as they hash out the details, that human services, which ordinarily is politically protected, and other agencies do receive cuts since overspending is the chief culprit. We also trust that the range of options on the table does not include increasing the costs for living or doing business in the city. After all, that would indeed be gimmickry.

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