- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 18, 2011

According to just-released census figures, one in five D.C. residents lives below the poverty line - $22,314 per year.

The news coincides with revised estimates that say the District will end the fiscal year Sept. 30 with an unexpected $89 million.

The two new facts will spark anew the debate about whether the city should deposit the money into its piggy bank or spend it.

With the heart and soul of Mayor Vincent C. Grays curriculum vitae rooted in aiding society’s have-nots, it’s safe to say he will continue spending on socio-economic policies. And the likelihood that he has several D.C. Council members on his side is a safe wager as well.

Moreover, the D.C. Department of Human Services already has revealed the Gray administration’s hand in a white paper on welfare reform that states the No. 1 goal is to move “more families to self-sufficiency by addressing their unique needs.”

In other words, the administration’s philosophy is that spending more money on government handouts is the only way to give poor folks a hand up.

In this troubling economic climate, when even college-educated Americans cannot find jobs and local and state budgets are shrinking, you would think such a philosophy would leave tax-and-spend lawmakers posing for cameras to explain why saving that $89 million makes for sound fiscal policy. But because there are no fiscal hawks on the council, forget about it.

Liberals and progressives merely ask how much something will cost.

Here are a few answers on the D.C. plan:

c If the welfare reform plan, now only a pilot program, is fully implemented in January as proposed, handouts to 3,000 welfare recipients will cost an estimated $27.3 million.

c Bear in mind those costs do not include “DHS’s internal cost to manage and operate the program and the costs of barrier remediation services,” the DHS study says.

c The “internal cost” includes additional staffing, and the “barrier remedial services” include alleviating what the study described as customers’ limited education, minimal work experience, personal and family health issues, substance abuse and legal issues, and transportation and child-care challenges.

The only thing missing is addressing which house of worship a welfare recipient must attend.

The earliest signs of the true costs of the Gray administration’s welfare-reform policy likely won’t be seen until spring, when 2013 budget talks begin and taxpayers learn that city hall has bull’s-eyed their income and property taxes. But I’m hardly suggesting you take a wait-and-see posture.

Understand that the liberal D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute already has begun tugging at city hall’s heart strings by raising the specter that higher taxes will be on the front burner when lawmakers return from summer recess this Tuesday.

Indeed, it seems taxpayers may have been set up in the spring, when lawmakers approved budget language that says socio-economic programs be the first in line to receive new revenue this year, not the city’s savings account.

That $89 million coupled with the welfare-reform plan makes it easier for lawmakers up for re-election in April to woo the attention of voters who are poor or have limited incomes.

The mayor, who faces a potential recall, easily could be labeled a hypocrite if he fails the fiscally responsible smell test.

After all, it was Mr. Gray who ridiculed his predecessor and chief rival in the Democratic primary last year, Adrian M. Fenty, for his spending practices.

Meanwhile, D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown hasn’t exactly made a name for himself for keeping the Gray administration in check.

How these two politicians answer the $89 million question will reveal who rules the roost in city hall.

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

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