- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 21, 2009

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty on Friday proposed a fiscal 2010 budget that calls for eliminating more than 1,600 jobs, freezing tax deductions and imposing tens of millions of dollars in fees and fines as the city wrestles with an $800 million shortfall.

“We have searched agency by agency and line by line, seeking enhanced efficiency and better ways to provide services,” said Mr. Fenty.

The third spending plan of Mr. Fenty’s mayoral term is the first D.C. budget to cut spending in more than a decade, City Administrator Dan Tangherlini said. It comes in the midst of a national recession that confronted the city with declining revenue and an unemployment rate of more than 9 percent in January.

The budget contains $5.4 billion in local funds - down nearly 4 percent from the $5.6 billion in fiscal 2009 - and eliminates 776 positions through layoffs, 398 through attrition and 458 that are already vacant.

The spending proposal relies on Mr. Fenty’s plans to freeze the homestead and standard tax deductions, as well as the city’s personal tax exemption, to generate about $7.3 million, according to budget estimates. The amounts of the deductions and exemption normally grow with the Washington Area Consumer Price Index.

The city also expects to collect nearly $50 million in new or expanded fees and fines through initiatives like collecting fees at parking meters on Saturdays, increasing automated traffic enforcement, imposing a $180 fee for the filming of movies in the District and boosting the emergency-telephone surcharge imposed in the city - a move that in the past has provoked D.C. Council opposition.

The monthly 911 fee embedded in customers’ phone bills would go from 76 cents to $1.01 for land lines and from 76 cents to $1.15 for cell phones, under the mayor’s proposal.

The Fenty administration says the fees, fines and freezes do not amount to tax increases.

“There are fees, there are changes to deductions,” Mr. Tangherlini said. “There are all those kinds of things you adjust on the side, and that happens every budget.”

But Ed Lazere, executive director of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, said not allowing the tax deductions and exemption to increase by inflation “means people will pay more in taxes than they would otherwise.” The difference between a tax and a fee can be a semantic argument, but the mayor’s budget at least includes revenue increases, Mr. Lazere said.

“To the extent that you’re raising fees that different residents have to pay, that’s more money that’s coming out of residents’ pockets,” he said.

Mr. Fenty’s budget proposal also reflects about $270 million in funds from the federal stimulus package, Mr. Tangherlini said, including about $29 million to boost spending on students and $6 million that police plan to apply to hiring 150 officers in fiscal 2010.

The positions cut by Mr. Fenty include 250 D.C. Public Schools employees who are largely teacher aides and support staff. The cuts are justified by a projected decrease in student enrollment but, in keeping with a recent trend, Mr. Fenty’s budget increases the amount of money spent per public school student by $175 from last year, to $8,945.

A total of 145 positions would be eliminated from public safety agencies - including 45 civilian positions in the Metropolitan Police Department and 28 positions in the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department - while the city’s human services agencies stand to lose nearly 800 positions, including 240 in the Department of Mental Health.

The District has about 34,000 employees.

Mr. Tangherlini said the city saved about $250 million by restructuring government agencies - a process that included the job cuts. Council members are scheduled to hold a public briefing on the spending plan Monday.

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