ON HER first full day at work, Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon moved to what she had said all along would be her first order of business. "At stake is the very solvency of our government," she said, rolling out the rough preliminary numbers calling for $200 million in budget cuts in the nine months left in this fiscal year. With this good-faith fiscal move by the city, Mayor Dixon would close two-thirds of the projected budget gap of $300 million. The remaining $100 million must come from a federal government that should now recognize its part in this formidable effort of financial recovery. Mrs. Dixon gets the chance to make a direct case for a fair federal payment where it counts when she visits President Bush at his invitation in the White House today.
The details of Mayor Dixon's agency-by-agency budget-reduction figures are set for release today. But a broad sense of the sacrifices she will demand is already evident. She wants to restructure programs, reassign employees to cut staffing, institute hiring freezes, terminate temporary employees by March 1 and eliminate nonessential service contracts as quickly as possible.
The mayor stopped short of calling for employee furloughs or firings, but did not rule them out, either. She also directed agency heads to minimize the impact of cuts on services for low-income youth and the elderly and to sustain "basics" -- trash collection, motor vehicle registration, processing of driver's permits and essential health and safety services. "We will all start to suffer if we don't come to grips with this issue," Mrs. Dixon warned. "Nothing is sacrosanct."
Looking to the next fiscal year, which will begin on Oct. 1, Mayor Dixon is seeking to cut spending by an additional $200 million, with a corresponding increase in the requested federal payment. Will taxes then have to be raised? Neither Mayor Dixon nor D.C. Council Chairman John A. Wilson likes this idea. They have no favor for the hard politics of it, and they see little room in the District for the kinds of substantive tax increases needed to make a difference. Still, neither the mayor nor the council can rule out this dire option -- "cutting off an arm," Mrs. Dixon calls it -- and for the long run, neither has.
There are doubters on each side of the budget moves announced yesterday -- some saying it all can't be done this quickly, others saying it's still not enough. On Day One, nonetheless, the hard work has begun.