‘Ker­fuf­fle’ puts bud­get pro­cesses in ques­tion

Ma­neu­ver in­volves Gray, Brown, Gandhi

The Washington Times Daily - - Metro - BY JEF­FREY AN­DER­SON

A bud­get bat­tle in­volv­ing Mayor Vin­cent C. Gray and D.C. Coun­cil Chair­man Kwame R. Brown has raised se­ri­ous ques­tions about the ef­fi­cacy of the city’s chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer and whether Mr. Gray is de­liv­er­ing on prom­ises to im­prove the han­dling of the city’s bud­get.

At is­sue is a bud­get ma­neu­ver fa­cil­i­tated by CFO Nat­war M. Gandhi that Mr. Gray’s of­fice re­quested and later de­nounced as the type of fis­cal mis­man­age­ment prac­ticed by his pre­de­ces­sor, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty.

On Jan. 17, Eric Goulet, deputy chief of staff and bud­get di­rec­tor for Mr. Gray, asked Mr. Gandhi to “set aside” more than $42 mil­lion re­stricted for spe­cial pur­poses that would be re­des­ig­nated back to their spe­cific pur­poses at a later date on ap­proval of the coun­cil.

Of that $42 mil­lion, which came from sev­eral re­stricted funds, $13.4 mil­lion was in the Work­ers’ Com­pen­sa­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion fund, ac­cord­ing to Mr. Brown’s of­fice.

Work­ers’ com­pen­sa­tion claims ex­am­in­ers and ad­min­is­tra­tors, who spoke with The Washington Times on the con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause they fear re­tal­i­a­tion by the Gray ad­min­is­tra­tion, say the Dis­trict is pro­hib­ited from us­ing funds from the pro­gram, which in­cludes money con­trib­uted by pri­vate com­pa­nies in the city. They fur­ther say that the prac­tice is long-stand­ing, and that they have been com­plain­ing to the city for years.

An in­ter­nal email ob­tained by The Times shows that se­nior staff at the Depart­ment of Em­ploy­ment Ser­vices (DOES), which over­sees work­ers’ com­pen­sa­tion, were told in 2009 that “the City will be tak­ing ex­cess work­ers’ com­pen­sa­tion money from our bud­get.” In 2010, la­bor unions posed de­tailed ques­tions to coun­cil mem­ber Michael A. Brown, at-large in­de­pen­dent and chair­man of the Com­mit­tee on Bud­get and Over­sight, that drew at­ten­tion to the prac­tice.

In a re­cent email, Amy Bel­lanca, chief of staff to Michael Brown, said the ques­tions prompted a re­view that ex­posed the in­ap­pro­pri­ate use of the funds for a jobs pro­gram for ex-of­fend­ers.

med­i­cal costs.

“It is a real prob­lem,” she said. “The cost of med­i­cal care is go­ing to go up if we don’t pro­tect these kids when they are 8 and un­der.”

Her bill was ap­proved last week by the 11-mem­ber Se­nate Ju­di­cial Pro­ceed­ings Com­mit­tee, which re­jected the same pro­posal last year. Two Democrats and one Re­pub­li­can who voted against last year’s bill sup­ported this year’s.

Sen. Robert A. Zirkin, Bal­ti­more County Demo­crat, said he was swayed by re­cent med­i­cal stud­ies that have found sec­ond­hand smoke to be more harm­ful in cars than in most other ar­eas, some­times reach­ing tox­i­c­ity lev­els 10 times greater than those deemed ac­cept­able by the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency.

“Ob­vi­ously, ev­ery­body un­der­stood that this was bad for you but now there’s hard sci­ence be­hind it,” said Mr. Zirkin, Bal­ti­more County Demo­crat. “These kids have zero choice, and they are be­ing poi­soned.”

Nonethe­less, crit­ics have raised ques­tions about en­forc­ing such a law, ar­gu­ing that it could lead po­lice of­fi­cers to er­ro­neously pull over driv­ers car­ry­ing a child car seat but not a child.

They also have pre­dicted the law could pave the way for in- home smok­ing bans or other re­stric­tions on parental be­hav­ior.

“There’s not one good rea­son to smoke in a car with your kid, but that’s not the ques­tion,” said Sen. James Brochin, Bal­ti­more County Demo­crat. “The ques­tion is how much do we reg­u­late the re­la­tion­ship be­tween a par­ent and child?”

The Se­nate will re­sume dis­cus­sion of its bill on Fri­day.

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