- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 16, 2004

The D.C. Council placed its rubber stamp on Mayor Williams’ $4.2 billion spending plan for the next fiscal year. At first blush, the council’s move on Friday appears to be a politically smart one, forcing the mayor to become a more efficient spender. But a closer look says otherwise. In fact, the plan approved by lawmakers fails to address the most egregious offense in the mayor’s initial spending plan — an unwarranted 9 percent increase in spending.

In his original plan, the mayor proposed raising taxes on hospitals and residents who hold out-of-state bonds, and raising taxes and fees on owning motor vehicles and parking in the city. But lawmakers said no.

While we tip our anti-tax-raising hat to them and salute their efforts to bolster library services, we take issue with the lawmakers’ so-called savings plan and for their moves that fattened the coffers of public schools, whose officials always misspend their allotments.

Of particular note is that, to reach what the council called a consensus budget, lawmakers placed $50 million in reserves. That move, Council Chairman Linda Cropp said, would “rein in spending by this government, develop much-needed efficiency ? and [create] a strong desire to preserve the safety net for our most vulnerable citizens.”

To the contrary, placing $50 million in reserves mocks congressional attempts to force city officials to think twice about spending policies. Moreover, it encourages the mayor and the council to simply play footsies under the budget table during the next fiscal year, since the bulk of the money in the set-aside plan includes an estimated $40 million in entitlements to maintain the human-services safety nets.

The council’s unanimous budget vote puts the mayor in an interesting position: He can sign the budget or stand on executive principle and issue a veto. City Administrator Robert Bobb said he plans to encourage the mayor to sign the council’s budget and move forward. We agree.

Because the council’s plan did not change the bottom line — that is $4.2 billion in spending in the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1 — the budget now before the mayor essentially remains his (minus his proposals that would have increased the burden on residents and businesses). The council merely rearranged various pots of money and rejected his revenue-raising priorities. The mayor should sign the budget, send it to Congress and let the games begin.

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