- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 11, 2003

When Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi announced a few weeks ago that the strained D.C. budget faces a $323 million budget gap, Council Chairman Linda Cropp pointedly said that everything is on the table. She repeated that comment last week, when the Williams administration proposed closing swimming pools and increasing taxes as stopgap measures. "The mayor is moving in the right direction," Mrs. Cropp said. However, since lawmakers do not seem to have the political wherewithal to sound the alarm, we respectfully assume that responsibility.
Shaving a few million here and there off the District's $5.6 billion annual budget will not solve the problem. As a matter of fact, it will not address the root cause at all.
The D.C. Council and the Williams administration have been habitually spending far more money than is available. A pricey political duo, they not only continue to pour new money into old subsidies and entitlements, but create new spending programs as well. Their response in tight budgetary times like these is always the same: increase taxes and fees, and deliver a net loss in important services.
This latest round of cost-cutting talks is no different. The Williams administration, which already has hit recreation programs because of overspending last year, is now proposing to close a dozen swimming pools and suspend operations at 20 recreation centers. While doing so will save money, such services are indeed vital to every community. Meanwhile, costly programs for human services, the environment and an unchecked bureaucracy continue to drive the budget.
Clearly, another major problem seems to be a lack of focus on the part of the Williams administration. John Koskinen, the city administrator, will soon be leaving, and the mayor still has not announced who will and will not be part of his second term. Also, there are several key appointments on boards and commissions that must be made. What's not clear is who's making policy decisions.
Mayor Williams is now putting the final touches on his truly disappointing budget-cutting plan, which will merely stem the flow of red ink for a few months. If priorities are not established and deep cuts are not made to curb unnecessary overspending, he and the council will be back at the same table next fall.

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