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D.C. on spending freeze in face of fed spending slowdown

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Photo - D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (Graeme Jennings/Examiner)
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (Graeme Jennings/Examiner)
Local,DC,Liz Farmer

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray is freezing city workers' salaries and hiring for another year in preparation for an expected federal spending slowdown in 2013 that economists say could send a shockwave through the region's economy.

In an executive order issued last week, the freeze takes effect immediately and also stops travel for employees beyond city limits. It's the third year in a row that such a restriction has been placed on city workers. The order does not apply to employees in the city's legislative branch.

Facing yet another year of freezes drew mixed reactions from District employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

"This is why good people don't work for government," one worker said.

But another employee said city agencies were learning to work with the restrictions. In the past, they were given a lot of leeway in creating positions and salaries. Now, people can still be hired but the new position and salary must go through several layers of approval.

"It's simply just the realities of what we've been living with for the past few years," the employee said.

A spokesman for Gray said the mayor was only doing what was responsible.

"As long as the spectre of sequestration is staring us in the face, we much be very, very prudent," said Pedro Ribeiro. "We have to be good stewards of the public's dollars."

The freeze was executed in anticipation of $1.2 trillion in federal spending cut that are planned over the next decade and slated to start being phased in next year. Economists have warned the region's leaders about that because of this economy's heavy reliance on the federal government, the Washington region will bear the brunt of the pain.

Already, the region's growth rate -- which outpaced other cities' during the 2009 recession -- has suffered thanks to its heavy reliance on Uncle Sam, dropping from 4 percent six years ago to 2.8 percent this year, according to an analysis by George Mason University.

Ribeiro said the administration could opt to change the order if Congress steps in to halt the spending cuts.

"Maybe farther in the future when we've gotten beyond this hurdle it's something we can certainly revisit," he said.

lfarmer@washingtonexaminer.com

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