Earlier this week, Mayor-Elect Gray had a press conference and briefing about the upcoming challenges the District faces in readdressing our FY 2011 budget (and beyond) in the face of continued decline in revenues. I felt reassured by his comments, specifically his pledge not to use shortsighted budget gimmicks to close the gap. I believe he is also very aware of the tax burden faced by our residents and small businesses and recognizes that we cannot balance the budget on their backs. Raising taxes and failing to curtail spending is a recipe for disaster—and you would find next year we would be back in the same place, at which point taxes would likely be raised next year and the year after that. Fundamentally, we need to restructure what we’re doing.
We have difficult decisions ahead, particularly with respect to rightsizing the government to fit our revenue base. We will need to look at what core functions of the government we cannot do without, and look even harder at those things which are perhaps not as necessary. With two-thirds of our spending attributed to public safety, education and human services, we have to keep everything on the table when considering cuts. Looking at deficits of $188 million in FY 2011 and $345 million in FY 2012, we have simply run out of other options. We must curtail spending now. As the Mayor-Elect rightly pointed out, we have been overspending our revenue for each of the past four years, and this year we will no longer have fund balance or federal stimulus monies to paper over the problem.
I will be making a number of recommendations to help close the budget gap, including across-the-board freezes and cuts as needed in both personnel and procurement expenses. I will also be looking long and hard at spending on discretionary items—those things which we want to do, but which in tough times such as these may not be possible. With election season over, it is time for all of us to step up to the plate and make the difficult decisions we were elected to make. We no longer have the option of waiting until next year, and residents and business owners in the District are counting on us.
Let me end on this note: while Thanksgiving is but one day of the year, I have to say I am truly thankful everyday. Thankful for my family and friends. Thankful for my colleagues and staff. Thankful to have the opportunity to make a difference every day in what I do. So don’t let the week go by without a little reflection and hopefully a nice meal with family and friends too!