Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's Proposed Budget Would Cut 1,632 D.C. Jobs

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 21, 2009

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty yesterday proposed eliminating 1,632 government jobs and raising fees on parking meters, emergency phone service and business licensing, calling the moves necessary to meet spending restraints in the sluggish economy.

In a $5.4 billion spending proposal for fiscal 2010, Fenty (D) laid out a plan to lay off 776 employees and further reduce the workforce through attrition and elimination of vacant jobs. The cuts are spread throughout city agencies, including 250 positions in the public schools, 240 in the mental health department, 138 in public works and 118 in the finance office.

Combined with reductions made last year, the Fenty administration will have cut almost 2,500 city jobs in two years, about 7.5 percent of the city's 32,800-person workforce.

City Administrator Dan Tangherlini defended the cuts by telling D.C. Council members that the administration instructed agency directors to maintain service levels by eliminating redundancies and realigning spending. In past years, agencies simply carried over or increased their staffing levels without looking for waste, he said.

As an example, Tangherlini said, the city has separate fleet maintenance departments to repair vehicles for the fire and public works departments when a single unit would do.

"These are not gross city-wide layoffs, but a programmatic-based realignment," Tangherlini said. "We're trying to change the dialogue from a plus or minus [staffing] number to ask how these departments are constructed. That's a massive change in how budgeting is done in this city."

As for schools, which have been Fenty's top priority since taking office, the public system lost about 5,000 students since last year, so staffing levels will drop to meet the demand of the lower enrollment of about 45,000, mayoral aides said. Most of the jobs eliminated in the school system will be teacher aides and support staff.

Total public school spending would drop 1.2 percent under the proposed budget, from $773 million to $763 million. Of that amount, $603 million will go directly to schools, a proposed 2.6 percent increase over this year's amount. The District's public charter schools, which saw a 17 percent enrollment bump this year, would receive almost $400 million in the new budget, an 8.8 percent increase.

In addition to the job cuts, the Fenty administration raised a host of fees and introduced other cost-saving initiatives, including ending vehicle safety inspections (emissions inspections are still required by federal law).

The Fenty administration will appear before the council Monday at a public oversight hearing on the budget proposal. The spending plan requires approval by the council, which can make amendments, before it is sent to Congress for final authorization in June.

Reaction to the spending plan, which represents a 4 percent decrease from this year's budget, was mixed. Council members said they recognized the budget constraints facing the city, but some challenged the administration's contention that services would not be sacrificed.

Harry Thomas (D-Ward 5) said Tangherlini's example of fleet maintenance was flawed because the fire and public works agencies have equipment that requires different expertise to maintain. And he pointed to a recent reduction in city day-care providers that forced some facilities to close.

"It's not logical at all. It's not possible to say there will not be a disruption in service," Thomas said. "And we don't want to put people on the streets, which would add to our social problems in the community."

Members Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) and Michael A. Brown (D-At Large) said they feared the budget cuts services for the city's lower-income residents. The city's affordable housing trust fund, which got more than $60 million two years ago, will receive just $18 million this year because the fund is tied to the slumping housing market.

Brown also called the proposed fee hikes tax increases. Fenty, who pledged during his mayoral campaign that he would not raise taxes, declined to characterize the increases as such.

"From my perspective, taxes are being raised," Brown said.

But other council members praised the Fenty administration for taking a hard line on agency spending.

"We're not just keeping the status quo and paying for what we have, but starting back at the beginning and trying to see what we need," said Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), chairman of the Committee on Finance and Revenue.

Brooks Holtom, an assistant professor of management at Georgetown University, said businesses and governments tend to add jobs with little scrutiny during flush times. But they are forced to be more innovative in pruning ranks during lean times, using new technology or being creative in service delivery, he said.

Governments usually have a harder chore making cuts because they tend to be more unionized and have difficulty firing employees, Holtom added.

"That sometimes creates inefficiencies," he said. "I hope that they have given a great deal of thought to which positions add the least value for District citizens. The challenge is if you cannot eliminate the people, it means you put them into new positions where they may or may not do as well."

Staff writers Hamil R. Harris and Bill Turque contributed to this report.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company