- The Washington Times - Friday, May 14, 2004

The D.C. Council yesterday unanimously passed a balanced $6.2 billion budget that trimmed $50 million from the budget proposed by Mayor Anthony A. Williams, averted scheduled tax and fee increases and slowed the growth of city government.

D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp promised the amended budget would “rein in spending by this government, develop much-needed efficiency, an opportunity to encourage and move the government to be more cost effective, and a strong desire to preserve the safety net for our most vulnerable citizens.”

The budget consists of $4.16 billion in local taxpayer funds and about $2 billion in federal payments and specialized grants. It contains a record $1.06 billion for D.C. public schools, $1.17 billion for human services and $763 million for public safety.

“We will be spending more per person than any other jurisdiction in the country — city or state,” said D.C. Council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat. Mr. Evans said the growth rate was not sustainable in the future and that the budget contained provisions capping the growth rate in the 2006 budget at 4.6 percent.

The final budget cut $15 million in spending while placing $35 million more into “contingency funds” that agencies would be able to access “after they show due diligence.” Mrs. Cropp said such diligence includes ensuring that available federal grants are being utilized and agency expenses are justified.

“To the extent it can be justified to show why [the funding is needed] … it’s added on,” Mrs. Cropp said.

City Administrator Robert C. Bobb said he was not pleased that the funding was being held in reserve, but said he would “encourage the mayor to take the budget and move forward.”

The mayor must sign the budget bill before it goes to Congress for final approval.

Mr. Bobb, who joined the D.C. government in October, said the budget debates showed a “significant lack of confidence on the part of city council in management’s ability to manage the government.”

“I am absolutely dogged, committed to ensure that every agency of city government prove their ability to manage within the resources they have,” he said.

Mr. Bobb said he “didn’t anticipate all the historical baggage that seems to have played itself out in terms of the relationships,” adding that regaining the trust of the legislative branch would be his priority.

The final budget did not include $27 million in tax and fee increases Mr. Williams had proposed in his original spending plan. Mr. Williams eliminated a plan to tax hospital stays and out-of-state bonds last month after the city’s chief financial officer certified $50 million in additional revenue.

Increases in fees for driver services, such as residential parking permits and driver’s licenses, were rejected in committee, as was a proposal for a “streetlight maintenance fee” that would have been passed on to residents.

“Did I want to see more cuts? Yes,” said D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat. “On the other hand, it’s clear to me that governing has to be done with some degree of consensus.”

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