- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The D.C. Council on Tuesday failed to pass a midyear spending plan that would have compensated city workers for four furlough days in 2011 after it deadlocked on a patchwork of funding priorities and whether it made sense to put the District’s payroll over its other responsibilities.

The council split its vote, 6-6, on Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s $63 million supplemental budget plan for fiscal 2012, which also addressed spending pressures in the D.C. Public Schools and other agencies. It needed eight votes to pass as emergency legislation, so the council might consider yet another submission from Mr. Gray while it tackles the more pressing budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

The vote on Tuesday marked the second time the council convened to consider the mayor’s plan but could not reach a consensus on its priorities — even though it was considering the less arduous task of spending money, not making cuts. In mid-April, the council approved $8 million in funding to the unemployment compensation fund and $7 million to D.C. Public Charter Schools, while ignoring the rest of the priorities in Mr. Gray’s request.

“We need to put this issue behind us,” council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, told his colleagues on Tuesday.

Mr. Gray’s spokesman, Pedro Ribeiro, said the mayor was disappointed by the council’s “shortsighted and irresponsible” decision not to approve the supplemental budget.

“Sometimes, it’s like eating spinach,” Mr. Ribeiro said. “There are things you have to do, as an adult, to keep the government running.”

Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown said he will turn his focus to budget talks for fiscal 2013 until Mr. Gray decides whether to submit a new supplemental budget plan.

Mr. Brown, a Democrat, was among those who argued city workers should be paid for the quartet of holidays they took without pay in 2011 as part of cost-cutting measures, only to see the city get a windfall of revenue by the end of the year.

But he also entertained a compromise amendment by council members Michael A. Brown and David A. Catania, at-large independents, that would have paid city employees for two furlough days now and split about $10 million between the Housing Production Trust Fund and the D.C. Healthcare Alliance. City workers would have been paid for the remaining two furlough days after revised revenue estimates arrived in June, according to the plan.

Mr. Catania, chairman of the Committee on Health, is trying to close a $23 million cut in Mr. Gray’s fiscal 2013 budget plan for hospital and specialty care for alliance members, who are predominantly from the city’s immigrant population and not eligible for Medicaid.

The amendment, which had Mr. Gray’s support, failed on a 7-5 vote.

“I didn’t think the tea party would come to Washington, and it did,” Mr. Catania said, chiding his colleagues for failing to “split the baby” and resolve the matter.

“I didn’t make any promises to organized labor,” he had told his colleagues at a pre-meeting breakfast. “I’m willing to share, but I’m not willing to concede.”

Mr. Brown, the at-large member, said colleagues who supported payments to city workers managed to work against their own interests by shooting down the proposal.

“What made my compromise so nice,” he said after the meeting, “is workers would have been guaranteed money today. Needy families would have been guaranteed money today.”

Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, showed little patience for the supplemental budget at all. It rewarded agencies for overspending their budgets, he said, and “the issue of the furloughs has been very, very politicized.”

Meanwhile, a group of unionized city workers who congregated on one side of the council chamber to watch the proceedings enjoyed unyielding support from council members Vincent B. Orange, at-large Democrat; Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat; and Yvette M. Alexander, Ward 7 Democrat.

“These workers had nothing to do with the budget gap,” Mr. Barry said. “Why should our outstanding workers suffer the consequences of something they had nothing to do with?”

Mr. Evans, who supported full compensation for the city workers, also failed in an effort on Tuesday to kill off a controversial tax on interest income earned by out-of-state bondholders.

He wanted to use the proceeds from a tax on food vendors to cover the repeal, but his attempt was thwarted by Mr. Barry and other colleagues who couched the effort as a way to aid people of a higher economic status.

“What about them?” Mr. Orange said, motioning to city workers in the audience. “We took their money.”

Mr. Evans, who was offended by the class-oriented remarks and argued he had done actual legwork to find a funding source for his initiative, conceded the debate and allowed the proceeds to go into the general fund.

“OK, Mr. Orange,” Mr. Evans quipped. “Does that make you feel a little better?”

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