- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 30, 2004

In unveiling his proposed spending plan for fiscal 2005 on Monday, Mayor Williams deemed the proposal “balanced in a fair and responsible manner.” Mr. Williams misspoke. While the $6.25 billion plan may, at first blush, appear modest, since it calls for $340 million in new spending, the fact is that the mayor wants to increase spending by 9 percent — while the Bush administration held nondiscretionary spending to 3.9 percent.

The disappointing proposal followed recent closed-door meetings between the mayor and the D.C. Council, so there are no surprises on the spending side of the ledger. What’s so troublesome is that the mayor wants to raise taxes — which account for all but 9 percent of the city’s local revenues — and increase fees and fines — which, as we wrote yesterday, is the lesser of the revenue-generating evils now under consideration. To wit, the mayor wants to increase practically all costs associated with owning a vehicle and driving in the District, and revoke a tax exemption on out-of-state municipal bonds. We oppose both those proposals and urge lawmakers to oppose rescinding tax cuts.

While we appreciate the consideration the mayor has given some of the priorities spelled out in his various citizen summits, we nonetheless are concerned about his decision to substantially increase spending on human services and questionable educational programs. For example, the District had to absorb nearly $100 million in Medicaid costs because of poor documentation, yet the mayor said nothing about fixing the Medicaid problem. On the education front, the administration proposes spending $16 million on pre-K programs (a favorite of Education Chairman Kevin Chavous), when the schools have trouble educating on all grade levels. Another concern of ours is new money — $16 million — to combat crime by “deploying” officers to certain neighborhoods. Why does it cost extra millions to patrol crime-pocked neighborhoods?

On the other hand, when it comes to beefing up school security, modernizing schools and broadening school choice, we think the mayor is moving in the right direction. And we urge the Council to support the mayor’s plan to allocate 15 percent of his $340 million spending plan on debt service and 8 percent on pension obligations. Wall Street will look favorably upon those proposals.

Our chief concern remains the same as some members of the council. As Republican lawmaker David Catania said, the proposed growth rate of 9 percent is “unsustainable.” That “unsustainable” growth puts the mayor and the council right back where there have been in recent weeks — in serious deliberations about where the money comes from and where it goes. Let the public discussions begin.

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