D.C. mayoral candidate Walter E. Fauntroy unveiled his plan yesterday for dealing with the District's mounting fiscal crisis, pledging no new taxes or employee layoffs while calling for what amounts to a federal bailout of the city government.
Fauntroy, a Democrat and the District's nonvoting delegate to Congress, contended that D.C. taxpayers are "taxed to the limit" and added: "New taxes threaten residents and businesses alike, forcing taxpayers to flee and creating a city of the very rich and very poor."
Instead of raising taxes, Fauntroy said, he would ask Congress to increase the federal payment from $435 million to nearly $650 million a year -- or about 21 percent of the city's budget.
He also proposed that Congress appropriate a special $600 million package over five years to deal with crumbling roads, schools and other infrastructure needs that he said predate home rule.
Even as Fauntroy was announcing his financial package, political pressure was building to halt a Barry administration plan to furlough up to 26,000 city workers this summer to avoid an estimated $95 million budget deficit this year.
About 60 union representatives of D.C. government workers walked out of a morning meeting with Deputy Mayor Robert Pohlman and other top city officials that had been called to solicit union comment on the furlough plan.
"To participate at this point is to give legitimacy to an absurd process," said Kenneth F. Greene, executive director of Council 20 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents about 8,000 city workers.
Greene and other union officials appeared at a news conference later in the day to support emergency legislation proposed by D.C. Council member Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large) that would require the city to give union officials 90 days' notice to carry out a furlough. Current law requires 30 days' notice. Kane's bill would effectively prevent the administration from carrying out the furlough this year.
Council member Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 6) also has introduced a measure that would prevent the administration from taking action that would "affect the tenure or days of work" of low-grade D.C. workers without 60 days' written notice. Both bills will be considered at the council's final session today before it recesses for the summer.
Mark Levitt, the administration's top labor negotiator, said it is a "shame" the union representatives gave up a chance to influence how the furloughs would be structured. "If Kane's legislation doesn't pass," he said, "there definitely will be furloughs, and they missed an opportunity."
Fauntroy's proposals, disclosed in a 31-page platform, echo other mayoral candidates, most of whom have called for an increased federal payment and greater austerity.
The federal payment is designed to compensate the District for the presence in Washington of the federal government, which is exempt from local real estate taxes. It has remained constant at about $435 million during the last five years, while the rest of the budget has grown rapidly, to $3 billion a year.
Although the city has argued unsuccessfully in recent years for an increase in the federal payment, Fauntroy said he would be able to obtain it because of his ties to Congress. He said his own efforts as a House member to increase the payment have been hampered by the city's poor image in Congress.
Fauntroy said he would seek to improve that image by paring down the government's 48,000-member work force through attrition and the firing of incompetent employees.