THE DISTRICT'S financial plight requires cuts in practically every public program, including those that most visibly and directly affect city residents. Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon's plans to reduce the D.C. government's projected budget deficit have already encountered some strong criticism. But for the most part, the mayor's proposals seem to be thoughtful and reasonable, particularly when viewed against conditions in other large cities.
Mayor Dixon's proposal to forgo hiring 200 more police officers, for example, is not really a cut at all, but a scaling back of an increase that has seen the force grow from 3,878 sworn officers in 1987 to about 4,800 now. Even in 1987, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, the city had 6.2 officers for every 1,000 residents, by far the highest officer-to-citizen ratio of any of the nation's 25 largest municipal police departments. And those figures involved D.C. police alone, not factoring in the U.S. Park Police, the U.S. Capitol Police and other law enforcement bodies.
The mayor's plan to reduce staffing on all fire engine companies, from five firefighters and two trucks to four firefighters and one truck, is not a radical concept. The same idea was supported by previous D.C. governments and would bring the city in line with many other jurisdictions. In the past, however, Congress has scuttled the plan.
To some, this would hardly appear to be the time to contemplate cuts in academic offerings and employment programs funded by the D.C. government. Here too, however, changes are in order. The city's summer employment program, for example, has traditionally promised a job for every youth regardless of income. That is an unrealistic proposition when the city faces a projected deficit of $302 million, and Mayor Dixon is right in suggesting that the program should be limited to poor youths.
In terms of education, it should be noted that the cuts recommended by Mayor Dixon and those recently voted on by the D.C. school board are very similar to the timetables and recommendations set by two important advisory panels, both of which suggested that the city reduce spending on thirsty administrative bureaucracies. Similarly, Mayor Dixon's proposal to phase out city spending on the D.C. School of Law makes sense. Strong primary, secondary and college programs are important to the District. Another law school isn't needed.