City Council finance committee chairman John A. Wilson said yesterday that he and Mayor Marion Barry are "close to an agreement" that could more than double the number of layoffs the mayor has proposed as a way to deal with the city's financial crisis.
Accompanied by a smiling but reticent Barry, Wilson also said that he has changed his position and has scheduled Council hearings on the mayor's tax proposals to begin April 24.
Wilson had refused to call hearings on Barry's proposed $24 million in increased taxes and user fees, which must win Council approval to go into effect. Wilson's opposition was a major stumbling block for Barry's overall plan to avoid a projected $172.4 million District of Columbia budget deficit.
Wilson said he still does not support Barry's original package and will not vote for it. But he said that he and Barry hope to announce by Monday an agreement on the major issue that divides them -- the number of city workers to be laid off.
Barry's initial proposal called for eliminating 1,223 city jobs, 550 of those through layoffs and the rest through attrition. Wilson issued his own plan last Friday calling for the elimination of 2,500 jobs, all through layoffs.
"We are trying to meet in the area of 1,200 [layoffs]," Wilson said. Asked if during his negotiations with Barry there had been significant movement in the mayor's position, Wilson replied, "Sure there has."
Barry would not confirm Wilson's figures, but said, "John and I have been talking about this problem. We are together on the seriousness of it."
Wilson also said he and Barry are closer to agreement on his position that a substantial number of the employes who are laid off should be from the higher salary ranks.
Significant movement on the number of layoffs would be yet another indication that Barry's budget proposals, which the mayor announced March 6 with a defiant challenge to the Council to come up with a better plan if they did not like his, were little more than a starting point for discussion.
The business community has voiced strong opposition to the tax package, which falls heavily on commercial interests. Wilson has suggested reducing that proposed burden and business, and scaling down the tax and user fee proposals from $24 million to about $12 million.
Barry already has made adjustments in his $26.1 million program of cutbacks, reducing the number of youth recreation centers to be closed from 21 to 10 and indicating that he may not stick by his decision to lay off 360 workers in the Department of Corrections.
And knowledgeable administration sources have confirmed that the Barry administration is preparing contingency plans in case the third major element of the budget proposals -- a $61.8 million supplemental federal payment request approved by the City Council on Wednesday -- is trimmed by Congress. Capitol Hill sources have indicated that it is unlikely the city will receive the full amount requested.
Wilson has maintained throughout the budget crisis that the only way to solve the problem is through substantial layoffs of District employes.
Though he and Barry have disagreed publicly, they have continued to meet privately to resolve their differences on the budget.
The two emerged smiling from a brief session in Barry's office at mid-day yesterday to announce the scheduled April 24 hearings. Wilson said his Finance and Revenue committee will vote on the tax pacakage on April 29.