Fenty seeks to close $523 million shortfall by cutting jobs, hiking fees

By Nikita Stewart and Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, April 2, 2010

Faced with a $523 million shortfall and a reelection campaign amid his waning popularity, D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty proposed a 2011 budget Thursday that would slash 385 jobs and increase fees but would continue to spend heavily on public schools and recreation.

Fenty's proposal comes just days after D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) announced that he would challenge the first-term mayor and a drive-by shooting left four people dead and five others wounded, eclipsing the city's record-low homicide rate.

Fenty's planned budget is considered one of the most challenging in a decade. In addition to the city's shrinking revenues, high unemployment rate, burdening debt and borrowing limitations, the spending plan will now be negotiated through the prism of an election year by a mayor seeking reelection and the man seeking to oust him.

"Every agency in this government would love to have more money to put towards more programs," said Fenty, whose plan does not call for higher income, property or sales tax rates. "Our position is that we've struck a balance . . . without raising taxes. . . . Every agency has to do more with less," he said during his budget presentation to the council.

His proposed $5.3 billion local spending plan is already being criticized by council members and government watchdogs for flawed math and misplaced priorities. The release of the full budget was delayed by hours Thursday morning, with the Fenty administration scrambling to keep the Office of the Tenant Advocate intact after The Washington Post reported online that the agency would be consolidated to save money. Budget books had to be reprinted.

"I'm the author of the legislation that created the office," said council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), a Fenty ally. "I was certain it would be rejected . . . so what's the point? To his credit, the mayor did not hesitate at all with taking it out" of the proposal, Graham added.

The mayor said at a news conference on the steps of the John A. Wilson Building that politics and the fiscal plan would not mix. He said he and the council "would let nothing get in the way of the best budget and the best implementation of the budget." But he said he expected a healthy debate between now and mid-June, when the council is to vote on the budget.

The proposed budget, which grows to $8.9 billion with federal funds and to $11 billion in total spending with capital projects, continues to eat away at the city's 30,000-person workforce with about 2,000 positions being eliminated in the past two years. About half of the 385 jobs to be cut are vacant, City Administrator Neil O. Albert said, adding that about 200 people will lose their jobs through attrition, buyouts and terminations.

Automatic salary increases wouldn't happen, saving $20 million, and employees now enjoying parking subsidies would see those disappear, a savings of $200,000.

The budget also includes revenue generators: a 39-cent increase in the fee on phone lines through the e911 fund could produce $7 million, and a 25-cent bump in parking meters that now cost 75 cents per hour could raise $3.6 million. Other ways to generate dollars include increasing 13 renewal fees through the Department of Health, affecting such practitioners as chiropractors and acupuncturists; raising fines on 71 different traffic violations, including passing a stopped school bus; and selling advertising on the back of parking meters and parking meter receipts.

During his presentation to the council and later at a news conference, Fenty focused on improvements to government and said he did not have details of the projected cuts. Instead, he highlighted a per-pupil increase of $175 in both traditional and charter schools. His budget would also add $2.7 million for summer camps and facility improvements to recreation centers and would add $2.4 million for staff and equipment for the new Wilson and Deanwood pools.

At the council presentation, Gray told the mayor that he did not explain what was being cut to fill the budget gap. "When you read the documents, it sounds like things are great, and we know things are not great here or other places," said Gray, questioning how Fenty can afford to propose an $140 million increase in school funding.

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