- The Washington Times - Monday, March 22, 2004

The D.C. government has not spent enough on the city’s poorest residents even as spending on management rose sharply since 1990, according to a study conducted by area financial analysts.

The D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, which analyzed city budgets from 1990 through 2004, said in a report released last week that city leaders have done a good job keeping overall spending in check.

The portion of the D.C. budget supported by local tax dollars rose 3 percent since 1990 after adjusting for inflation, the study found.

However, local taxpayer dollars are not getting to residents who need those funds most, while several city management agencies, such as the Office of the Chief Financial Officer, saw sharp spending increases during the 14-year period, the study found.

“District officials have done a pretty good job in reducing spending,” said Ed Lazere, executive director of the institute. “However, programs for the neediest residents were cut severely.”

The report came as D.C. officials are trying to cover a looming budget deficit.

D.C. Council Chairwoman Linda Cropp, a Democrat, disputed the study’s findings that city leaders have failed to deliver funding to much-needed social service programs.

“Over the past two years, we have put more money into affordable housing than the city has done in its history,” she said.

She also said city officials must get a handle on costs, especially in education and public safety. “That’s where we’ve had significant increases,” she said.

Mr. Lazere said the group’s study did not look specifically into the recent increase in high-paying salaries to D.C. government executives. But he noted that the trend contributed to rising management costs in city government.

“We haven’t done detailed analysis of the number of [highly paid] employees and why they’re there,” Mr. Lazere said. “There was an effort to attract high-quality personnel in the District. That need to attract high-quality managers was very real.

“If you look at the chief financial officer, the management of that office has improved dramatically and that in turn has helped the District dramatically. But it has also come with substantial costs.”

Overall, 11 agencies lost at least 10 percent of their budgets over the past 14 years, with the biggest cuts to affordable housing and employment-training programs, the study found.

The Washington Times reported last year that 575 city employees earned more than $100,000 annually, which was up from one worker who earned that much in 1995.

However, city officials said they need to be able to offer higher salaries to attract good managers.

Mrs. Cropp said the D.C. Council had to vote on a special salary ordinance to hire City Administrator Robert Bobb, whose $185,000 annual pay is about $40,000 less than what he earned in a similar job in Oakland, Calif.

Alice Rivlin, who chaired the now-defunct D.C. control board, said the increase in high-paying management jobs in the District reflects how poorly managers were paid compared with other jurisdictions in the mid-1990s.

“It’s a good thing,” she said of the rising salaries.

But Mrs. Rivlin said the city needs to increase spending for housing and job training by seeking revenue from taxpayers or the federal government.

City officials, however, say they won’t seek to raise taxes on city residents.

“We just can’t tax our residents to solve our budget problems,” said Tony Bullock, spokesman for Mayor Anthony A. Williams, a Democrat. “I just don’t think there is a strong case for increasing taxes. There might be some other revenue we can look at, but that’s not going to be part of it.”

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