By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Mayor Adrian M. Fenty testified before D.C. Council members yesterday that his proposed 2009 budget is his own, reflecting his new policies and priorities, unlike last year, when many initiatives were holdovers from predecessor Anthony A. Williams.
The budget calls for a frugal 0.7 percent increase in local spending, dramatically less than the accustomed annual growth in the city's expenditures and a signal that Fenty is heeding the warnings of fiscal advisers to rein in spending as the economy slows.
"I want to note that this is the first full budget cycle of my administration," Fenty (D) said. "By going through the planning process from start to finish this year, we were able to achieve a much deeper sense of how this government should spend the funds with which the public entrusts it and us.
"What you see before you is a lean, fiscally responsible budget proposal," he said.
The increase, which bumps local spending from about $5.6 billion to about $5.7 billion, gave council members little to rally around en masse. Their questions often reflected individual interests or business in their committees.
Fenty started four hours of testimony by reading a 7 1/2 -page statement aloud.
Some council members said the proposal was lean on details.
For example, council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) said the proposal does not provide details about the transfer of money from one agency to another. Council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) said the budget was "not transparent."
Although Fenty told council members that he would provide particulars as the budget process unfolds, Gray said he plans to introduce emergency legislation today that would require the mayor to supply more specifics.
Fenty said his administration is taking a new approach to the budget as he continues to give priority to education.
In the past, he said, the city has estimated the increased cost of operating government and asked department heads to propose changes within that increase. "Well, that's no way to craft a budget," Fenty said. "Now, the agency director has to show if there is an increase, why there is an increase."
Yesterday's overview kicked off budget hearings for all agencies. The hearings are scheduled to be completed at the end of April. The council is to take a final vote on the spending plan by June 3.
Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) said he did not share some fellow council members' dismay over the missing specifics. "That happens during the budget process," said Barry, a former mayor who prepared many budgets. "I don't think we should get bent out of shape over that."
Barry, who is chairman of the Committee on Housing and Urban Affairs, homed in on Fenty's plans to create affordable housing and to end homelessness. Fenty told council members that the budget would create a $19 million housing fund to put 400 individuals and 80 families in stable housing next year and "more than 650 individuals and 150 families by 2010."
Barry objected to having the Department of Human Services administer the program, saying the agency "has no track record of producing housing." In December, Gray blocked Fenty's plan to put Human Services in charge of another housing initiative, shifting the duties to the Housing Production Trust Fund.
But Fenty asked the council to be "open-minded" and to get away from placing homeless people in shelters. "It's just inhumane to continue going in that direction," he said.
Barry also questioned why Ford's Theatre would get $10 million, significantly more than any of the other 43 groups receiving one-time grants under Fenty's proposal. The Town Hall Education Arts & Recreation Campus, which is known as THEARC and serves underprivileged children east of the Anacostia River, would receive the next highest amount, $2 million.
In an interview, Fenty said the city's downtown has been revived with such investments and renovations. "This particular project is part of continuing that transformation," he said.
Fenty said he expects the council to amend his proposal. "We think there will be some adjustments," he said.
Earlier in the day, council member David A. Catania (I-At Large), chairman of the Committee on Health, said he hoped the mayor would agree to amend the budget to include his proposed "universal health-care" plan, which Catania said would provide insurance to about 45,000 uninsured residents currently ineligible for Medicaid and the District's Health Care Alliance.
The $21 million program, which would begin in July 2009, would be funded by new taxes on cigarettes and health companies.