- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 23, 2010

As the Democratic chairman of the D.C. Council Finance and Revenue Committee calls for payroll cuts, a union that represents thousands of city-government workers said furloughs will be a part of the District’s budget-cutting proposal.

The District has not furloughed its workers since the mid-1990s budget crisis that resulted in a congressional takeover of city finances.

Union leaders view the D.C. furloughs as a job saver, because the money just isn’t there, said Dwight Bowman, national vice president of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents about 5,000 workers.

“Everyone is in agreement that the first priority is to save jobs and everyone understands that this is a very serious fiscal situation,” he told The Washington Times in an interview.

Remedying the spending problem “calls for a mixture of things, furloughs being one of them,” Mr. Bowman said. “No one wants to have furloughs. Many of the people we represent live in the city and know that service cuts can be devastating to the community. But we know those [deficit] numbers are significant and we want to go ahead and make the cuts that should be made. At the end of day, we have to make the sacrifice.”

The Washington Teachers Union, which had hundreds of workers laid off in recent years, did not respond to calls for comment by Tuesday evening.

The issue of mandatory furloughs was pushed Tuesday by the city’s most-senior lawmaker, council member Jack Evans, who said “we cannot balance the budget” on the backs of residents and small businesses.

Mr. Evans, who also is chairman of the finance panel, urged his colleagues to stop the budget gimmicks and cut the overspending with mandatory furloughs and a 3 percent, across-the-board spending cut on all D.C. agencies.

“[W]e have been overspending our revenue for each of the past four years and this year we will no longer have [reserve] fund balance or federal stimulus monies to paper over this problem,” he said Tuesday. “With election season over, it is time for all of us to step up to the plate and make the difficult decisions we were elected to make.”

The calls for furloughs and the AFGE’s support followed Monday’s news that the city faces a $188 million shortfall in the current budget year and a potential $345 million deficit next year.

The Times reported Tuesday that the severity of the fiscal crisis means there are no sacred cows, and such traditionally sacrosanct programs as schools and public safety face budget cuts.

Republicans, meanwhile, said the city’s elected leaders should stop the rhetorical shenanigans and consider their own spending habits.

“For the last several years, we have had our elected officials use words like cuts and fiscal restraint, but we still end up with bloated budgets that our city cannot afford,” said Paul Craney, head of the D.C. Republican Party. “Until our elected officials actually do put everything on the table, including their own salaries and their large staff salaries, we will continue to have rhetoric over restraint.”

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty did institute a hiring freeze, but neither he nor his successor, D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, has laid out a detailed cost-cutting plan for the public.

Some individual lawmakers have publicized their agendas, including at-large council member Michael Brown.

“We have to look at programs that traditionally are not on the table,” Mr. Brown told The Times. “Police, fire and schools. These are agencies that haven’t traditionally been on the table.”

• Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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