The D.C. Council, in an extraordinary step to save money, yesterday unanimously approved Chairman John A. Wilson's proposal to furlough each member of the council and all of its 172 employees for 10 days.
Council members emerged from two hours of private debate saying that they had agreed to the furloughs in part to illustrate the severity of the city's financial crisis.
In all, Wilson won council approval to cut $884,000 -- or 10 percent -- from its current operating budget.
The council's decision is the first in D.C. government this year that includes furloughs as a step to curb the city's budget deficit, which Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon's financial advisers have warned may reach $300 million by the time the fiscal year ends Sept. 30.
Dixon has said she will not consider furloughs until she first makes deep spending cuts and solicits an emergency appropriation from Congress. Wilson's plan to trim $884,000 matches the cuts that Dixon asked the council to make.
Before their meeting yesterday, several council members expressed reservation about the furloughs, which will be staggered over five months. Council member H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7) said he would not support the plan unless Wilson convinced him that there were no other choices.
"Some council members were wondering if any other options were available, and I told them that there were none," Wilson said. "It's always difficult to make cuts like this, but I think people wanted to cooperate."
Wilson, who became the council's chairman on Jan. 2, also had council members agree to waive their pay raises, end travel, eliminate their ceremonial fund and cancel advertising and employee training.
"We feel it's important to exercise leadership in dealing with the budget crisis by personally sacrificing our own budget," said council member William Lightfoot (I-At Large). "We wanted to set an example. Everyone in government should pay attention to our deficit now."
In other business yesterday, the council's Committee of the Whole approved a set of legislative rules that now will require the full council to meet once each month, rather than twice a month.