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July 31, 2009

D.C. Council eliminates earmarks for social service programs

The Washington Post reports that the D.C. Council today unanimously adopted a revised FY 2010 budget that raises taxes and cuts spending to close a projected $666 million deficit over the next three years. On the receiving end of the cuts are a number of LGBT groups: the DC Center, Transgender Health Empowerment, and the Mautner Project.

Mayor Fenty had proposed a 60 percent cut in the earmarks, but Council Chairman Vincent Gray reportedly pushed to eliminate them altogether. Here is what the Post says about the earmarks:

Members also agreed to eliminate earmarks for arts and social service organizations. In addition to saving money, Gray is trying to respond to the controversy over council member Marion Barry's (D-Ward 8) use of the earmark process to divert money to several organizations in Ward 8.

GLAA Secretary Miguel Tuason last week joined several other LGBT community activists at a hearing chaired by Gray, in which they defended the LGBT service organizations against the proposed cuts. We understood that times are tough and a lot of others were facing the same pain, but it seems that the Council took the easy path of just cutting everything rather than making tough choices. To a significant degree, our community groups are being hit by stray bullets from the controversy over misuse of earmarks by Councilmember Barry.

We ourselves have had qualms about the use of earmarks as a way of bypassing the normal budget process, but we are pragmatists and made peace with it in light of the services being provided by the recipient organizations that were not otherwise being provided. Responsible nonprofits providing much-needed services should not be lumped in with the do-nothing recipients of Boss Barry's largesse.

If the Council were going to rethink its approach to earmarks, it should have done so with more advance notice so that the affected nonprofits could make alternate plans, including seeking to place appropriate grant monies in the regular budget. By suddenly cutting previously approved funds at the last minute — and not just by 60 percent as proposed by Fenty — the Council has left many vital service organizations in the lurch. If one considers that public budgets are not just about the bottom line but about the lives of the people affected by them, the irresponsible way the Council has handled this financial crisis becomes painfully evident.

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