- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 18, 2004

As the liberals plea for increased spending on social services, Mayor Williams and the D.C. Council are trying to ward off $80 million in deficit spending. Social service groups and housing advocates recently urged City Hall against trimming services for the poor, and the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute (FPI), a liberal think tank, just this week released a report that criticizes officials for “dramatically” cutting social services. We certainly do not want to come across as harsh — or worse, dispassionate — but the bottom line is the bottom line: Spending must be curbed.

The District reportedly had to cover $100 million in Medicaid spending because of bureaucratic snafus. As the FPI pointed out, the District’s local Medicaid budget increased 72 percent between 1990 and this year, or $324 million this year vs. $189 million in 1990. During that same period, spending on child welfare programs, including foster care, increased 67 percent, with the number of children served rising from about 8,000 to nearly 22,000. Meanwhile, local school spending could top $1 billion next school year.

City officials are considering several changes in child welfare services, including lowering from 21 to 18 the age at which a “foster care child” could be emancipated. It is a modest proposal that deserves serious consideration from lawmakers. (Of course, there need to be exceptions, such as severely handicapped 18- to 21-year-olds.) Also, city officials should look toward trimming housing entitlements. In both instances, federal monies and nonprofit support are available to aid the truly poor and even those on the cusp of poverty. But it is the working poor, single adults and families, who are struggling to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and just need temporary help to prevent them from falling down.

D.C. taxpayers have spelled out their priorities for the next fiscal year, and education tops their list. Interestingly enough, City Hall also is pondering substantial reforms on the public schooling front, including legislative changes regarding the troubled State Education Office, the ineffective Board of Education and school choice. The federal government gave the District an additional $41 million for schools, but the reforms now on the front burner will take still more dollars.

It is a good and a bad thing, then, that amid all this necessary budget rigamarole the mayor has asked for more time to develop and submit to the council his balanced budget for fiscal 2005. Having input from various lobbies is indeed a prudent political move. As Republican Council member Carol Schwartz said, “We certainly want to have their input before the budget comes to us.”

We agree. However, the extension also gives the spendthrifts in City Hall more time to hide behind the interests of special interests. If the mayor (who also happens to be the city’s former chief financial officer) isn’t careful, he’ll pick up the pen with the red ink by mistake. If he uses the next few days wisely, though, he’ll make the right choices — as painful as those choices might be.

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