D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray didn't get the memo about the city's fiscal crisis. Even as his administration acknowledged that the budget gap for fiscal 2012 has grown to more than $545 million, he appears unwilling to curb his spending.
He has resurrected the wholly superfluous post of deputy mayor for public safety. He has announced he intends to revive the now defunct deputy mayor for human services position. He's spending like it's 2001 when money flowed like water.
Someone -- anyone -- please tell the mayor there's a drought.
The council hasn't told him to stop. That may not be so surprising. After all, Chairman Kwame Brown is riding around in a gas-guzzling SUV, just like the mayor. Gray's lease costs taxpayers $1,941 a month, according to his spokeswoman.
"The selection and procurement for the mayor's vehicle rest strictly with [the Metropolitan Police Department]," said mayoral spokeswoman Linda Wharton-Boyd, adding that Gray's vehicle is similar to those used by his predecessors.
Didn't Adrian Fenty ditch the SUV for a Smart car?
Brown didn't return my telephone call to talk about his SUV lease -- although he had promised through his spokesperson to do so.
"The mayor has to arrange things that are most effective for his administration," said Chairman Pro Tempore Mary Cheh, who didn't share my view that Gray is expanding the government. He could be reconfiguring existing personnel, she said. "We'll have to see how it all adds up."
Let's not quibble over adding or retaining. This much is certain: He has yet to reduce the size or cost of the government. He's continuing the tradition of paying exorbitant salaries: Gray's chief of staff makes $200,000 a year; the budget director gets $152,240; and that deputy mayor for public safety makes $185,000, according to information provided at my request by the mayor's office.
Wharton-Boyd, who pulls in $160,000, defended the salaries, asserting that the appointees' experience and educational background "exceed those of the previous incumbents" while their compensation is "comparable to other urban municipalities."
While Cheh and others are unwilling to rein in the mayor, they have acknowledged the fiscal challenge facing the city. "There will be cuts in my agency -- whether they come over from the mayor or from me," she said. "We ought to take this opportunity and say we're under the gun, let's get as trim as possible."
My point, exactly.
Jack Evans, chairman of the Committee on Finance and Revenue, one of the few council members not conflicted or confused, said the city must cut spending. He noted the District has a $10 billion budget for 600,000 people -- one of the highest per-capita spending rates in the nation.
"We're at a real crossroad," Evans told me. "If the mayor submits a responsible budget April 1st, we're going to be OK.
"But if he raises taxes or uses other gimmicks, it's going to put the city in a bigger hole," continued Evans. "That will hurt us on Wall Street and it will hurt us in Congress."
Can you feel the pain?
Jonetta Rose Barras' column appears on Monday and Wednesday. She can be reached at email@example.com.