agencies in
D.C. Budget
Headlines from
the Post
The difference between democracy and anarchy is respect for elected authority.
The current status of the District of Columbia helps explain many of the problems that need to be resolved to improve its outlook for the future:

o As established by charter, DC governance is not unlike other cities, with a mayor, a city administrator (or city manager), and a city council. It has a well-defined--and possibly outdated--ward structure; a quite rapidly changing racial demography; and some unfortunate election practices that need modernization. It has been performing a variety of state functions--and not very well--and participates in a number of not-very-effective regional authorities. Some of the more costly state functons have been taken over by the Federal Government, but many smaller one remain, and DC remains pretty well isolated from it's metro area neighbors. At the same time that the mayor's office is receiving kudos for its rapid turnaround, the City Council is coming under increasing scrutiny as a virtually dysfunctional legislature;

o On the other hand, by being "stateless" DC suffers some unique and constraining Federal oversight which leads NARPAC, Inc. to comment that it is struggling under "seven (amateur) mayors". Decreasing this oversight should be part of any permanent solution to DC's current problems;

o Even before the arrival of DC's unwelcome Control Board, a growing number of agencies in receivership attested to DC's increasingly dysfunctional government, and had begun to dilute government control. None have yet been returned to DC control, and are not expected during 1999;

o With the appointment of the Control Board, and the subsequent expansion of its authorities, the city's elected officials (with the exception of the Council members) effectively lost all control of the city's affairs--supposedly at least until four balanced budgets in a row had been demonstrated--and hopefully many other Board-instituted government and quality of city life improvements as well. In fact, with the advent of a new Mayor in January, 1999, effective control has been returned to him, and the Control Board is receding into more of an "management by exception" role, with the concurrence of the Congress;

o Surprisingly, however, the DC Budget for fiscal year 1997 ended up balanced, and has generated a surplus ever since. Nonetheless, significant problems remain in equalizing the tax burdens across the metro area, properly managing federal grants, and reconciling the inappropriate loss of the past "federal payment"--esssentially the Federal Government's "rent" to its landlord, the District of Columbia. Nevertheless, the first budget submitted by the new Mayor Williams offers great hope of permanent fiscal responsibility;

o The unending stream of daily headlines from the Washington Post provide a day-by-day account of the adventures and misadventures of the Control Board and the city's reaction to its presence.

This page was updated on Dec. 8, 2000

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