The D.C. Council held a six-hour - and counting - beg-a-thon today so 133 witnesses representing dozens of organizations could plea for leniency when it comes to looming budget cuts.
The council hopes to finalize next Friday a plan to close a $666 million revenue shortfall over the next two years. Lots of non profits and city agencies are expected to take a sizeable hit, but advocates showed up today in force hoping to salvage at least some money.
Many probably left disappointed. Even before the hearing began, Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) and Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), chairman of the finance committee, gave word the pleas most likely would not be successful.
"This chamber will be filled today with organizations and individuals asking for money," Evans said. "Given the situation we are in, I don't see how we can restore a dime."
The hearing, which is still going on, puts ambitious politicians like Gray in a difficult position.
He was forced to stare down education officials, social service and mental health advocates, arts enthusiasts, the gay and Hispanic communities, students, and lots of parents worried about their child's program or service.
Gray tried to his best to deflect the criticism away from the council.
"It's obvious the council supports these issues because we voted for them once already," Gray told the audience, referring to the budget the council approved in May that is now is being reopened. "We just happen to be in a different set of circumstances now. At the end of the day, we can't just simply go home and say we've got to continue those things even though we don't have any money."
There is, however, always the option of a tax increase to shield some programs from the budget ax. A near majority of the council already appears open to at least some form of tax or fee increase, although it remains unclear if a consensus can be reached in one week on such a controversial step.
"I am one of the proponents for: We have to look for additional revenue increases," Council member Michael Brown (I-At Large) said today, a sentiment echoed by Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1).
Gray has stated "all options are on the table," but he appears fairly adamant that budget cuts hold the real key to a balanced budget.
"We know at the end of the day, there are decisions we don't want to make," Gray said. "But we have to do it... This country is challenged in a way it hasn't been in a very, very long time."