D. C. Council Passes City Budget with Gray's Amendments

James Wright | 12/8/2010, 5:31 p.m.

The District of Columbia Council passed a supplementary budget, 11-2, on Tue., Dec. 7 that will not include tax increases but will mandate that city employees be furloughed for four days and some programs will have to endure cuts.

The budget was sent over to the D.C. Council after the Thanksgiving holiday because the city was short of revenue by $188 million, according to estimates from the office of D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty and the Office of the Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi. D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray, noting the urgency of the situation, worked with his staff and consulted other council members on what immediate cuts should be made to make up the lost revenue for the fiscal year 2011 budget.

"We had only eight days to respond to the supplemental budget," said Gray, who will be sworn in as the city's next mayor on Sun., Jan. 2.

"The dollars to help everybody are just not there. The District of Columbia is in dire straits."

Gray, 68, said that it was important that the $188 million gap be closed now because "down the road in April we are looking at $400 million in cuts."
Gray's imprint on the city's new budget was strong. He restored Fenty's cuts in programs such as the adult job-training budget, funding for the Healthy Schools Act, sub-grants to community providers, energy assistance for low-income residents and environmental health positions in the Healthy Schools Act.
A strong proponent of early childhood education, Gray restored partial funds in the city's Early Childhood Education program.

Nevertheless, there were cuts in almost every social and human service program in addition to reductions in the Office of the Inspector General and a reduction in Neighborhood Investment Fund grants by 50 percent. Gray also set up a $40 million operating cash reserve to offset future spending pressures and a reserve for the District of Columbia Public Schools.

City employees, who have largely been spared any type of action by the Council in terms of cost-cutting, will have to take four days of furlough and have to bear more of their health insurance costs.

"It is time for city employees to sacrifice," D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At-Large), said.

D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) made it clear that he did not like the budget and would not vote for it.
"The budget should not be balanced on those who are the most vulnerable," Barry, 74, said.

"We need a budget that protects the vulnerable."

Barry complimented Gray for "working hard to put this budget together in such a short period of time" but said that some of the cuts were not fair.
"The children need $3 million but you give them $1 million," he said.

D.C. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) voted against Gray's revisions of the budget-based on cuts that also service the needy.
"The disabled will be losing services and so will homeless families who are housed at D.C. General Hospital," Wells, 53, said.

"City employees will lose four days and pay more for health insurance. It is the needy that will suffer under this budget while others will not be affected at all."
Wells said that the budget will make Washington "an unlivable city."

D.C. Council member Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) said that while she was not happy with everything in the budget she was happy that programs in her ward that dealt with HIV/AIDS funding, energy assistance and job training were restored.

D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), chairman of the powerful Committee on Finance and Revenue, said that if the Council did not make the tough decisions to cut at the present, the city will be in serious fiscal trouble.

"This is very, very serious," Evans, 57, said.

"If we don't make the hard decisions now, we will have a Republican Congress that will say 'we told you so', and take over the city."
It has been pointed out by political observers that the Fenty administration could have gotten the budget to the Council in late October. The administration has not explained why the delay took place.

Barry, a four-term mayor of the city, said that Fenty's budget was a "don't care budget" and "he lost the election, thank God."

Gray said that this tough budget had to be passed to avoid an even more embarrassing scenario for the District.

"The Grim Reaper is at the door but we will not have the control board come back," Gray said.

"In the future, we will have thoughtful processes on the budget but we had to make these tough decisions now."