"The grim reaper is at the door."
Tough words from a guy who was compared to a vampire during his run for D.C. mayor. But Vincent Gray wants the D.C. Council -- and the city's government and residents -- to understand just how bad things are with the budget.
The Washington Times reports that while budget cuts and employee furloughs approved Tuesday should close the immediate budget gap, District officials said two weeks ago that D.C. "faces a $375 million deficit next fiscal year. But while debating the budget bill on Tuesday, lawmakers said the dollar figure could be as high as $500 million."
DCist says the plan, a modified version of an outline crafted by Mayor Adrian Fenty, "calls for significant cuts to social services and four days of furloughs for city employees -- but keeps tax rates at current levels." Two proposals to include tax hikes failed on votes of 8 to 5, with Councilmembers Marion Barry, Michael Brown, Jim Graham, Harry Thomas Jr., and Tommy Wells supporting both.
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The Washington Post says councilmembers "traded verbal jabs over whether taxpayers should be asked to contribute more to help close a $188 million shortfall." Said Graham, "People say this is about soaking the rich. But this budget soaks the poor." The Washington Examiner calls it "a robust debate surrounding measures to raise taxes that eventually failed."
As the Post's Mike DeBonis writes, D.C. employees "are now part of a hot new trend sweeping the nation: Mandatory unpaid vacation." But "the problem with furloughs is that they're a short-term fix. Because workforce costs naturally grow over time, more and more furloughs are necessary to get the same budgetary boost in each subsequent year. The structurally sound thing to do, from a budgetary perspective, is to actually lay off workers."
Gray "said as much shortly after his primary victory, telling me that furloughs 'don't solve the long-term problem.' But a furlough does solve a short-term political problem, which is avoiding layoffs."
The overall plan passed 11 to 2, with Barry and Wells opposed.
Elsewhere in the DMV:
- While the District gets furloughs, Maryland gets buyouts. Washington Business Journal reports Gov. Martin O'Malley is offering buyouts of $15,000 or more to state employees who volunteer for layoffs. Capital News Service says the legislature "ordered the governor to cut 500 jobs by the end of fiscal 2011, and the administration expects at least that many to participate in the Voluntary Separation Program."
If fewer than 500 volunteer, some will be laid off without the cash benefit -- making it something of a gamble for workers. Union leader Patrick Moran tells the Baltimore Sun that the program "should encourage people 'who are on the cusp of retirement' to leave earlier."
- Center Maryland's Josh Kurtz asks, "What does it say when the biggest cheers at the inauguration of Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker Monday were for Marion Barry? That the reform-minded new executive has his work cut out for him, to say the very least."
The Post reports the Prince George's County Council voted unanimously to make Ingrid Turner its new chair, with Eric Olson elected vice chair. Olson was one of five members who had said Leslie Johnson "should not take her seat on the council because of pending federal corruption charges against her and her husband," and he was elected 8 to 0 -- with Johnson abstaining. The Council did not give Johnson a seat on any of its standing committees.
In an editorial, the Sun writes, "Although Mrs. Johnson is entitled to a presumption of innocence until proven otherwise, her mere presence on the new council raises renewed questions about lapses in that body's past oversight and watchdog roles and casts a long shadow over its operations that will be difficult to dispel so long as the charges against her remained unresolved. With such a potent symbol of the county's troubled ethical history still occupying one of its top elected positions, Mr. Baker will need all his powers of persuasion, diplomacy and tact to convince residents that the fresh start they have been waiting for so long has finally arrived."
- Ex-Sen. George Allen "said he was surprised to hear that fellow Republican Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, described his time in the U.S. Senate as 'mediocre,'" the Post reports. Allen, who is likely to face Stewart in the 2012 Virginia Republican Senate primary, said, "I've always been complimentary of Corey Stewart. We've always gotten along. It was surprising to me."
- Washington Business Journal reports that when it comes to unemployment, the Washington area "remains the lowest in the nation among big cities, falling to 5.8 percent in October, from 5.9 percent in September" -- the only major city in the nation with unemployment below six percent. In the District itself, unemployment is 9.6 percent, slightly below the national rate of 9.8 percent.
- Washington City Paper reports that eight candidates submitted signatures to the D.C. Democratic State Committee to be considered for an interim At-Large Council appointment that the committee will vote on early next month: Sekou Biddle, Dorothy Douglas, Calvin Gurley, Stan Mayes, Vincent Orange, Kelvin Robinson, Stephen Slaughter and Saul Solorzano. Not on the list: Ward 8 Democrats President Jacque Patterson, who seemed to be the main rival to frontrunner Orange. Patterson tells City Paper that he has "decided to focus on the general election" to be held in the spring, "and forgo the appointment process." That makes Orange's path easier, though Biddle and Robinson could still be in contention.
- The D.C. Republican Party is running a "$10 for 13" membership drive: "There are 13 D.C. Councilmembers who on a daily basis force their very Democratic ideas on D.C. residents. ...By becoming a $10 for 13 Member, you will help us change the way D.C. does business."
- The Post says the fence that once surrounded Gray's home "may soon rise again" once Gray becomes mayor. After "months of wrangling with the city bureaucracy -- including an obscure committee whose decision pushed Gray to tear down a portion of the fence at his Hillcrest home -- the mayor-elect most likely will have the last laugh - and at taxpayers' expense."
- Defeated Ward 8 advisory neighborhood commission candidate Larry Pretlow says on his website, "I'm doing back-flips right now! Soon the general public will know that I dropped $2,000 on a local ANC Campaign. NEVER AGAIN!" Pretlow, who has publicly mulled challenging Councilmember Marion Barry, adds, "Now I know how to be the WINNER next round and I know a much CHEAPER way of doing it!"
- If you see something, say something – and be prepared for Metro employees to slam a door in your face, Unsuck D.C. Metro writes.
Follow P.J. Orvetti on Twitter at @PJOinDC