HOW FAST and thoroughly can the new mayor clean house? Her immediate order for deep spending cuts from every agency under her direct control has sent more than a few District Building bureaucrats scrambling -- and has provoked predictable outrage from corresponding constituency groups. Yet the action had to be tough and quick -- and it is both. Even as those affected are complaining about the severity of the cuts, others wonder why Mrs. Dixon didn't immediately issue specific orders making good on her campaign pledge to cut 2,000 middle-level managers from the payroll. There is some confusion, too, about whether those agency spending cuts the mayor ordered for this fiscal year -- already one-quarter gone -- are expected to include the 2,000 job cuts. And will these same agency-by-agency budget cuts include the pay-increase deferrals that she's ordered, too -- or are they above and beyond the spending ceilings?
1. Those 2,000 jobs. Though some reports have characterized Mayor Dixon as "retreating" from her campaign pledge to eliminate 2,000 middle-management jobs from the 48,000-person work force, there has been no retreat. On the day she called for $200 million in budget cuts for the nine months left in this fiscal year, Mrs. Dixon spoke directly to the issue of the 2,000 jobs, vowing again to "isolate and eliminate the bloat that exists at that level." This work has begun, with a management review task force assigned to "identify positions which can be eliminated," focusing first on several large agencies: the departments of human services, employment services and housing and community development. "Our goal will be to restructure staffing levels, position grades and spans of control to reduce management ranks while improving the delivery of services. Total District employment will be lower by the end of this year than it is today and will continue to shrink throughout my term in office." That doesn't guarantee that all 2,000 jobs will be cut by Sept. 30, but the mission is underway already.
2. Those agency-by-agency budget cuts. Mayor Dixon's order revised spending ceilings for all agencies under her direct control. The new levels are expected to reduce projected spending by $130 million in this current fiscal year. No specific cuts have been ordered yet; each agency head was given two weeks to submit recommendations for meeting the lower spending ceilings. The mayor has said every attempt should be made "to minimize impacts on services for low-income youth and the elderly," to sustain the "basics," such as trash collection, motor vehicle registration and driver's permit processing" and to ensure essential services "directly affecting public health and safety."
3. Those deferrals of pay raises. Mayor Dixon has met with leaders of organized labor to seek their agreement to defer any pay increases until after the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. There are contract complications, yes; and employees are upset. But when the alternatives are furloughs and firings, some patience and a job to keep can be a palatable position for a while. These deferrals, which the Dixon administration estimates would save $63 million in this fiscal year alone, would be in addition to the $130 million in cuts asked of the agencies. With another $8.3 million to be raised through various user fees, the grand total estimated to be saved right away would be $201.3 million.
4. The rest of that deficit. Even with all these measures, there's another $100 million needed to close the budget gap. That should come from "our largest non-taxpayer, the entity which imposes our greatest costs, the organization that has declared two-thirds of the income earned here exempt from District taxation": the federal government.
The housecleaning has begun, but it obviously all can't be done by Sept. 30. There are going to be some very painful cuts, and it won't be fun when the dust really starts to fly. But the issue is the solvency of the District of Columbia, and everyone -- from President Bush to Congress to the local leaders all around the region -- is pledging new, significant cooperation in this effort that is important to their constituencies as well as to the people of this city who took Mrs. Dixon at her word.