- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Facing a tight deadline to construct and enact a balanced budget by the end of December, D.C. Council members held lame-duck Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s budget-cutting plan up for public scrutiny, and lawmakers revealed early indications about where they stand.

The mayor put on the table cuts for public safety and schools, as well as social-service spending.

Council member David A. Catania, at-large independent, said he and colleagues shouldn’t engage in “class-warfare finger-pointing” with increased taxes only on the wealthy. Instead, he proposed a “modest, broad-based” tax increase plan.

Lawmaker Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 Democrat, wants to find additional revenue to pay for social services, which take several hits under the mayor’s plan.

Council members Michael A. Brown, at-large independent, and Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, whose bills to raise taxes on wealthy D.C. residents were voted down this spring, resurrected their arguments.

“We should reject the mayor’s plan out of hand,” Mr. Graham said. “We’ve got to look at the millionaires’ income- tax bracket.”

Not all stakeholders agreed with the lawmakers’ tax-and-spend direction.

The council “should institute an across-the-board spending cut,” said Robert Brannum, president of the D.C. Federation of Civic Associations.

“Folks at the top of the income bracket have their attackers, and folks at the bottom have their defenders, but  folks in the middle are fighting for survival,” said Mr. Brannum as people scheduled to testify streamed in and out of the council chamber.

The witness list included more than 160 stakeholders eager to testify on the mayor’s plan, which proposes slashing $161 million in spending and eliminating about 125 jobs to close an anticipated $188 million gap in the budget for fiscal 2011, which is barely two months old. Those recommendations are in additional to a hiring freeze and non-personnel spending reductions that Mr. Fenty by executive fiat ordered after it became clear that he would become a one-term mayor.

Long before Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, the mayor-elect, began the hearing, the chamber was packed with advocates ready to reject out of hand what Mr. Fenty deemed the “very tough but necessary decisions” to produce a balanced budget in the final weeks of his administration. The mayor wants to cut some of the same programs that many of the advocates fought for during budget deliberations in the spring.

Highlights of the Fenty gap-closing plan include:

• Delaying implementation of the hugely popular Healthy Schools Act, which Mr. Gray supports. The law mandates that all public schools offer students more produce and that those foods be produced locally.

• Reducing lifetime cash welfare benefits to 60 months, a much-discussed legislative proposal introduced by Council members Yvette Alexander, Ward 7 Democrat, and Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat.

• Saving an estimated $6 million through program cuts at the Child and Family Services Agency, which has been under fire for lax oversight following a highly publicized case in which a mother killed her four daughters.

• Saving $6 million by streamlining communication equipment expenses, including renegotiating some contracts and disconnecting unused cell phones.

For its part, the council is considering across-the-board furloughs of D.C. government employees, cuts in public safety and higher taxes.

Lawmakers, who have yet to unveil a detailed plan, said they hope to have a final budget package ready for Mr. Fenty’s signature before they recess for the Christmas holiday.

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