Kwame Brown addresses budget plan, United Medical Center sale
Kwame R. Brown, fresh off his first meetings with Wall Street bond raters as D.C. Council chairman, attempted to affirm his commitment to fiscal rectitude on television this morning as the government begins to plug a budget hole reaching into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Brown (D) said on NewsChannel 8 that he, Mayor Vincent C. Gray and council finance committee Chairman Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) have "committed not to dip into reserves" to representatives of the three major rating agencies on Thursday. Evans made similar comments to the Washington Examiner.
That would be a departure from the last two city budgets, which spent down the city's savings to offset recession-related revenue shortfalls.
Brown appeared to make news when he told host Bruce DePuyt that closing the gap, which some mayoral sources estimate at $600 million or more, "can't be done with cuts alone" -- signaling his willingness to raise taxes on District residents.
But pressed by DePuyt, Brown refrained from explicitly saying he was pro-tax-hike, retreating to old talking points about how the city needs to collect money its owed, then look to cut programs for savings.
"It's clear that this can't be done with cuts alone, and it can't be done with revenue enhancements alone," Brown said. "There's a possibility that there could be both. "
Brown also discussed the fate of United Medical Center, the long-troubled Ward 8 hospital that the District has been running since July.
Gray has made a power move in recent days to take control of the hospital's board, which is widely seen as a prelude to forcing a sale -- a sale, Gray has said, that would please bond raters.
Brown seconded those themes. "They are interested in some sort of exit plan," he said of the raters. "We made the commitment not to be in the running-a-hospital business. ... They were concerned that no municipality has been able to successfully run a hospital."
He added he was concerned that the city not have "another D.C. General" on its hands -- a reference to the charity hospital that represented a massive drain on the city budget before its 2001 closing.
The UMC saga stands to get politically messy, with Health Committee Chairman David A. Catania (I-At Large) fighting tooth and nail to keep the hospital under city control for several more years, stabilizing it to the point that a blue-chip hospital chain would be interested in acquiring it.
The debate has gotten personal. Recent hospital dealings have been suffused with allegations that a prospective buyer, businessman George Chopivsky, hired a well-known D.C. lobbyist with close ties to the District's highest officials to promote a quick sale.
Linda Mercado Greene has a close personal relationship with Gray, and she is an old family friend of Brown's. In June, Greene resigned from the campaign of Brown's opponent in the chairman's race, Vincent Orange, saying that Brown was "part of my family."
On television today, Brown lauded Catania's longstanding crusade to save the hospital. "Council member Catania has done a phenomenal job," he said. "No one has been playing the point more than him."
| February 14, 2011; 12:38 PM ET
Categories: David Catania, Kwame Brown, The District, Vincent Gray
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