D.C. Council Chairman John A. Wilson yesterday proposed furloughing every member of the council and all of its employees for a total of 10 days as part of an effort to trim $884,000 from the council's 1991 operating budget.
Wilson's proposal amounts to about a 10 percent reduction in the council's $8 million budget, and it matches the cuts that Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon asked the council to absorb in response to the District's mounting financial crisis.
Dixon's financial advisers have warned that the city's budget deficit may reach $300 million in the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30.
If the council approves Wilson's plan, each of the 13 members and the 172 employees on the council's payroll must forgo their salaries for 10 days, on a staggered basis, which would produce a savings of nearly $300,000.
Wilson's move is the first this year to specifically suggest furloughs. To this point, Dixon has said she hopes to eliminate the deficit with a combination of deep spending cuts and an emergency appropriation from Congress.
However, school board President R. David Hall (Ward 2) has warned that some teaching and administrative jobs may be abolished in the spring as part of a $10 million cutback in school spending ordered by Dixon.
"This is the only route I can go to support the mayor," Wilson said late yesterday. "We have cut everything else we can possibly cut."
Wilson, who became the council's chairman Jan. 2 after serving as the Ward 2 council member for 16 years, said he expects some council members to resist his furlough proposal.
Wilson said he wants the furloughs to take place during the next five months to minimize the hardships they may cause. "This is not going to be an easy thing to accomplish, but we have no choice," he said. "It's depressing as hell."
David Schlein, national vice president of the American Federation of Government Employees District 14, said he found Wilson's proposal hard to believe. "Furloughs are a bad idea. They're a bad idea for all public employees -- including city council," said Schlein, whose union represents 6,000 District workers.
"I know there's a serious budget crisis but . . . public employees are needed on the job," he said. "We will be fighting to protect the pay and job security of all our members."
Council member Harry Thomas Sr. (D-Ward 5) said, "The bottom line is that John is trying to find ways to save money quickly, and most likely I'll support what he does. It's better to be furloughed than to lose your job."
Along with the furloughs, Wilson said he wants the council to waive pay raises, end travel, eliminate its ceremonial fund, cancel advertising and employee training, and absorb $450,000 in unbudgeted expenses.
He said that even if the city persuades Congress to substantially increase the federal payment to the District, furloughs may be necessary in other departments because city revenue continues to fall short.
"We have to convince the rest of the bureaucracy that this is truly a serious crisis situation," Wilson said. "This is not a joke."
Staff writer Christine Spolar contributed to this report.