Furloughs are ineffective shortcuts to a balanced budget

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To the editor:

It is budget season in Alexandria. Facing the most severe revenue downturn in our history, our policymakers are rightly exploring all options for balancing our budget.

Human nature being what it is, some policymakers are looking for shortcuts enabling the impossible by balancing the budget without cutting services or raising taxes. The concept of furloughing our city’s workforce is one such shortcut.

The concept seems simple: “Allow” city employees to take a few unpaid vacation days throughout the year and nobody feels any pain; neither the employees nor the taxpayers.

Alas, like most shortcuts, furloughs are unsustainable, damaging to the delivery of city services, and ultimately make future budget years even more difficult.

Furloughs are designed to get a government entity through one bad year or address an end-of-year shortfall. Unfortunately, Alexandria is in the middle of a prolonged revenue downturn. While recovery does appear on the horizon, it will be slow and modest. Banking on a quick recovery would be foolhardy at best.

Most of the government entities that employ furloughs are those bound by labor contracts that limit their flexibility in reducing the workforce. Alexandria is not subject to any collective bargaining agreement, and has no such limitations.

If our policymakers desire to cut spending, they should do so and do so responsibly. During last year’s budget process, we rightly rejected furloughs and instead made painful, yet necessary cuts, cutting spending by over 2 percent and reducing the city’s workforce by 4 percent.

The City Council should not resort to shortsighted budget tactics designed to avoid the political consequences of making the tough decisions they were elected to make.

Justin M. Wilson

Alexandria

The writer is a former member of the Alexandria City Council.


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