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Council, Activists Battle Over Budget Cuts

The fifth floor of the John A. Wilson Building was packed with hundreds of city residents as members of the D.C. Council debated whether to pass tens of millions in budget cuts for fiscal year 2009.

Council Chairman Vince C. Gray found himself at odds with Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), who wanted the vote delayed in order to have more time to figure out how to decrease the cuts to programs that serve low-income residents.

Advocates for those residents protested outside the Wilson building this morning, arguing that city's poor will carry a disproportionate amount of the burden of those cuts. Advocates have estimated that $58 million will be cut from programs designated for low-income residents, including housing programs and funding for domestic violence victims.

The cuts are being proposed by the Fenty administration ($131 million in trims) and the council, (which last week proposed freezing an additional $50 million in new spending), to try to offset the dramatic downturn in the national economy.

"No one here today is happy to be here," Gray said as the meeting got underway. "It has been very painful to reduce, delay and cut programs."

"We are acting very reponsibly today," Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) said. "The chairman is absolutely right. D.C. Council member Jack Evans said. "You wait halfway through the fiscal year, you double the problem."

Citing President-Election Barack Obama's victory and the Democrats' full controll of Congress, Evans said, "The last thing this city needs is to mess up its finances now. There is too much at stake."

But Barry said, "I am going to urge us to postpone the vote today. "

"This is too much money and too much potentional program impact to vote today. If this declaration passes I will move to put $21 million back in the budget."

Despite Barry's plea, Gray said, "I am going to urge my colleagues today to vote on the resolution; recognize this is a responsible action."

Among those in the chambers today are members of the Washington Interfaith Network who strongly object to the budget cuts.

"We think that the budget is unfair to the least of these in the city," said Joe Daniel, pastor of the Emory United Methodist Church and co-chair of WIN, who called for the Council to delay their action until Nov. 25th.

Hamil R. Harris

By Marcia Davis  |  November 10, 2008; 2:33 PM ET
Categories:  Budget , D.C. Council  
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