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Posted at 1:07 PM ET, 12/ 7/2010

D.C. Council rejects tax increase

By Tim Craig

The D.C. Council voted 8 to 5 on Tuesday to reject a pair of proposals to raise income taxes to prevent deep cuts to many social service programs, including those that help low-income residents pay for childcare and rent.

In successive votes, the council voted against a proposal by council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) that would have raised the income tax on any resident who makes $75,000 or more. The council later rejected a proposal by council members Michael Brown (I-At Large) and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) to raise income taxes only on residents who make more than $200,000.

During a heated exchange, council members traded verbal jabs over whether taxpayers should be asked to contribute more to help close a $188 million shortfall.

Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D), the incoming mayor, said he prefers that the council consider taxes in the spring, when he and the council will try to close a $440 million gap in the fiscal 2012 budget.

But council members Harry Thomas (D-Ward 5) and Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) joined Wells, Graham and Brown in voting to raise taxes. During the debate, several members accused their colleagues of not caring about the city's poor.

"People say this is about soaking the rich, but lets be clear, the budget before us soaks the poor, and if you had a choice between soaking the rich and soaking the poor, which would you accept?" Graham asked.

Later, Barry warned that opponents of the tax proposals will have to deal with their "conscience" if they vote against programs that help the city's poorest residents, including a proposal to scale back cash payments to residents who have been on welfare for at least five years.

"I don't believe in your heart of hearts you can do that in good conscience," Barry said. "When you cut welfare benefits the children suffer the most."

Gray, who headed the city's Department of Human Services in the 1990s, was visibly irritated by suggestions that opponents of higher taxes did not care about the poor.

"To have to address the cuts we are addressing is a very, very painful experience to me," Gray said. "There is not going to be anyone out in the street."

But Gray said the "District of Columbia is in dire straights," so tough decisions need to be made.

"The Grim Reaper is at the door and I will not sit here and be part of any exercise that results in a control board coming back to the District of Columbia," said Gray, referring to the congressionally appointed board that controlled city finances in the late 1990s.

Still, Gray and several of the council members who voted against the tax proposals said they probably could support some increases in the spring.

"The day of reckoning is not one we can hope our way out of," said council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3). "What we are doing here today is putting us in a position to review everything ... so that when day of reckoning comes, we can have a thoughtful sensible approach."

By Tim Craig  | December 7, 2010; 1:07 PM ET
Categories:  Budget, City Finances, Congressional Oversight, D.C. Council, Jim Graham, Marion Barry, Tim Craig, Vincent C. Gray  
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Next: Council poised to enact unpaid furlough for city workers


As a middle class taxpayer I would gladly pay a slight increase if it meant that legions of people were not desperate on a daily basis. Desperation leads people to desperate acts (i.e. crime), particularly in a city whose unemployment rate is as high as ours (not that any middle class folks would know that). If a minimal increase in my taxes keeps people off the streets, I think that's a good thing. Am I really the only one?

Posted by: rhalter3633 | December 7, 2010 1:43 PM | Report abuse

Tommy Wells will never have my vote again.

Posted by: sloppyawn | December 7, 2010 1:45 PM | Report abuse

They could triple the taxes and nothing would change. It's the leadership, or lack thereof, that is the problem. Pandering frauds and phoneys playing the race card daily.

Posted by: Trout1 | December 7, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

Marion Barry is the last person who should be invoking "conscience" in an argument.

Posted by: ionospherey | December 7, 2010 2:05 PM | Report abuse

rhalter3633 creates a false premise, i.e. that if taxes aren't raised people will be out on the street. Or if taxes are raised, people will be provided for. The problem is that higher taxes means more money for D.C. to waste, to spend on girlfriends of councilmembers, to spend on shotty contractors who offer expensive solutions that turn out to be fraud and waste. Plus, people on welfare need to buck up and help themselves. Trout1 said it best.

Posted by: Matt14 | December 7, 2010 2:14 PM | Report abuse

If you remove the welfare and tax cushions the poor get for doing nothing they would leave and allow for more gentrification and value to be added to DC. Along w/ more revenue from income generating productive members of dc.

Posted by: WhatBubble | December 7, 2010 2:23 PM | Report abuse

Yep, leaving the city right in the nick of time. They'll eventually raise taxes while I will continue to not qualify for any assistance and have a larger and larger portion of my check get eaten away by people who don't even need after care because they don't work.

Yep, leaving DC at just the right time.

Posted by: forgetthis | December 7, 2010 2:29 PM | Report abuse

Congratulations to Vincent Gray for standing firm against tax hikes now. When he submits the budget in February he will have to deal with cuts and potentially tax hikes but at the moment this shouldn't be done without a strict cleaning of the budget and making sure that every cut that can be made is made.

We are in dire straights and Marion Barry and Jim Graham saying the only way to deal with anything is to hike taxes without looking at the total budget from scratch is irresponsible to say the least. They are grandstanding and that is sad.

Posted by: peterdc | December 7, 2010 2:30 PM | Report abuse

Tommy Wells has got to go. First he rejects a proposal (by Marion Barry of all people!) to stop lifetime welfare. Then he proposes increasing taxes for those earning what amounts to basic middle class compared to the cost of living in DC. I don't understand why we keep reelecting him in Ward 6.

Posted by: jennifermb98 | December 7, 2010 2:47 PM | Report abuse

Stop taxing the middle class! It is TIME to tell welfare recipients that they need to earn that check!!! If you don't work, you don't get a check!! Then, take away their subsidized housing...You can't live for free, either...What about making welfare and housing payments (paper only) so that parents can not sell their food stamps. Or, make sure that rent is automatically deducted from their benefits...End cash benefits!

Posted by: whatsreallygoingon | December 7, 2010 3:22 PM | Report abuse

Please, if you have been on welfare more than 5 years something is wrong. Get some training (which I believe the city provides) and get a job. Raise income taxes on the middle class to what 10%, the mass exodus out of DC again.

Posted by: dcguy68 | December 7, 2010 3:31 PM | Report abuse

@rhalter3633: No you are not the only one. It is a cause-effect dicotomy. When humans are deprived of the basics of existence, they don't just walk away and accept the loss, they TAKE it by any means necessary. I expect crime to increase and the racial divide in this city to widen making a bad situation worse.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | December 7, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse

I would like to know how many of the people on welfare are...drug addicts, alcoholics...gang members...women that choose to keep getting pregnant over and over again! I'm tired of working my ass off and paying taxes for programs to help people who choose not to help them selves. If we stop helping these people so much, 1...we might be able to cut down on illegal immigrants...people might get up off the lazy butts and try to earn money the hard way (work for it)...and folks like me might not mind paying taxes for these types of programs.

Posted by: bgal625 | December 7, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

I believe that Barry/Alexander were on to something when proposing the 5 year max on welfare benefits. I would add to that a per/child benefit cap based at the year 1 limit thereby removing the financial incentive to have more children. The city has restored funding for adult education initiatives, so the services are there. I'd throw in limited subsidized child care as well to remove any excuse of not getting a job or skills leading to a job.

And we are certainly not done with furloughs, this is just a taste. Just look to Prince Georges County. I suggest the city impose a minimum 12 day furlough (1 per week) for 3 months. Make it a Friday to make it logistically easier on the employees, where non-essential services are shut down. Cut all capital spending on projects that are not funded FULLY by the Federal Government. Leave vacant many of the Fenty era excepted services 100k+ positions that created executive management redundancies across the goverment.

Speaking of reduncancies, why does some District agencies of the goverment (DDOT) have Communication Directors (Mayoral Appointees) AND Public Information Officers (Career Services). This is wasteful and should be corrected.

There are many ways, in the executive managerial ranks, that this goverment could save millions, question is whether the pols behind the Council dais and the Mayor elect are willing to make the easy tough decisions to capture those savings.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | December 7, 2010 4:08 PM | Report abuse

concernedaboutdc - please explain how "humans are deprived of the basics of existance". Who is doing the depriving? It couldn't possibly be their own fault, could it?

I just love people making excuses for the crime that festers in DC.

Posted by: Trout1 | December 7, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

@Trout1, humans often deprive themselves of the basics of existence. This is true. I wasn't making an assessment of where the deprivation arises from. However, reality is, when it is there, and there isn't a public source for limited provisioning, people will do whatever it takes to get them. It is not an excuse for crime, it is just a fact of life. We need to limit welfare, as Barry/Alexander recommended, and Wells shot down, but in doing so, provide adult education that will lead to a decent living wage and limited child care to remove the excuses that have allowed single parents from acquiring these skills or jobs.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | December 7, 2010 4:29 PM | Report abuse

OK, that's fine. But the biggest thing that needs to change is the attitude of those recieving assistance. And I do NOT think throwing more money at the problem will accomplish anything.

People make choices. Some people consistently make bad choices. I should not be expected to pay for other peoples self indulgence, be it substance abuse, laziness, etc.

Posted by: Trout1 | December 7, 2010 4:42 PM | Report abuse

@Trout1: Both you and I know there will always be dredges of society. It is something we will always have to live with in America. When you cap social service benefits, and let people know from the start those limits, you remove the assumption of a lifetime benefit. That is about all the government can do. Provide them the opportunity, if they yet still squander that, then if they result to a life of crime, jail is the best social welfare agency for them. We still pay for them even there.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | December 7, 2010 4:50 PM | Report abuse

Trout1, if there was a way to segment your money so that it only goes towards the care of those "responsible" people receiving gov't assistance, I'm sure it would have been done by now.

I don't have children nor like the current system but my dollars still contribute to DCPS education.

Point here, when it comes to taxes, you don't really get to decide where your money goes.

Posted by: dcis1 | December 7, 2010 5:05 PM | Report abuse

I'm not against raising taxes, but like pay raises, food, gas and everything else it must be done proportionally to maintain or increase Quality of Life. I'm also not against welfare, many fall or are born into hard times, but that is no excuse to have lifetime welfare. Put time limits on well fare with gradual decreases in the amount of benefit received the longer it is used. And make certain criteria necessary to continue to receive welfare and other tax payer funded assistance, like make job searches and volunteering mandatory.

Posted by: zagazow | December 7, 2010 7:01 PM | Report abuse

Maybe we can use the Marion Barry Turkey purchase plan to offset the deficit. Surely the District's creditors would honor that option.

Posted by: gamblep | December 7, 2010 8:28 PM | Report abuse

here come the federal control board againi say by fy 2013(if not sooner) they will be all over the city's money again

Posted by: JeroRobson1 | December 7, 2010 9:33 PM | Report abuse

Gamblep: Most people in the District aren't as cynical. You aligned yourself with a turkey givawaway as opposed to a very real initiative of Barry/Alexander to reduce the time recipents receive social welfare. One has to ask why you would select the subject of lesser importance over the one with more intellectual substance. Only you can answer that.

FeroRobson1: I really don't think the federal government WANTS to take control over the District's finances when they are grappling with a monumental federal deficit that is yet still unforgiving. However, we cannot forget it was a Democratic president (Clinton) that installed the Federal Control Board over the city, NOT the Republicans and it was done when the nation was experiencing a fiduciary surplus.

IF, big IF, our elected officials are able to damn politics and manage our financial affairs with economic prudence, we will be fine. That will require that they enrage many of our citizens that have become accustomed to excess. It has become an entitlement to them; unsustainable as they may be.

The tough decision involve cuts and improved functioning across the board. Primarily in those areas where we are spending the most RIGHT NOW. DCPS, Social Services and Emergency Response. However, a great start would be a freeze on ALL capital projects that are not FULLY funded by the Federal government. Those projects are easy to identify, even if they are still in the conceptional phase. What the city doesn't have it won't miss.

I noticed that the Mayor-elect retained funding to the Streetcar project. That was avoiding the inevitable and yielding to political pressure. NOT tough decision making. That project should be frozen UNTIL economic times improve. It is a billion dollar system that is, at best, experimental.

If the Council or Mayor's cuts impact me, personally, if they are in the best interest of the city and work towards closing the deficit, as a responsible citizen, I can and will stomach that. But, tough decisions have to be made that will impact everyone.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | December 8, 2010 8:05 AM | Report abuse

When this city keeps funding dog parks and bike paths instead of what are basic necessities, there is no need for a tax increase. Did this city also give free parking spaces to zipcar instead of charging them for running their business on public streets. How about the bike sharing program, is the company who runs the operation, collects the fees, paying for the public sidewalk space to put their bikes and run their business? Or did DC giveaway land and get nothing in return? Stop the giveaways or charge those who operate a business on public space.

Posted by: voter20 | December 8, 2010 8:16 AM | Report abuse

Amen, voter20. Those are all questions for the DDOT Director, Gabe Klein, who, I add, is a part OWNER of Zip Cars. If they are not being taxed or paying a fee to access that public space, as DDOT manages public space in the District, you have to ask yourself would any other business, without ties to a government official, receive such perks. Obvious conflict of interest? Absolutely.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | December 8, 2010 8:26 AM | Report abuse

Dear City Council, thanks for not being idiots like the last time you voted to tax plastic bags. It's about time you thought through a vote and didn't just throw money at a problem. Rare for you liberals, I know, so kudos to you.

DC doesn't have a budget problem, DC has a spending problem. Cut back 25% on all services that have no revenue generation aspect to them and do it today. Then you won't be overspending. Next, make the s**tbags in our parks clean up after themselves, thus freeing up taxpayer paid labor to focus on repaving, beautification and other worthwhile projects that increase value.

Posted by: mceoxley1 | December 8, 2010 8:58 AM | Report abuse

@mceoxley1: You use the term liberal as if to a liberal to be called such would be a put down. That is delusional, but if you need to do it to make yourself feel good, have at it. I know plenty of Democrats that are more conservative than moderate Republicans. It is a play on words really.

Some of the parks in the District are the responsibility of the National Park Service. Federal taxes go to maintain those. However, if you can come up with a magic formula on how to get the homeless to clean up parks you should develop it and submit it to the council for consideration. Rather, I'd suggest they get the kids entrusted to the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, to perform mandatory "community service" as a part of their sentence. Have them pick up the trash around the city to teach them some humility and social responsibility.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | December 8, 2010 11:01 AM | Report abuse

Amen, voter20. Those are all questions for the DDOT Director, Gabe Klein, who, I add, is a part OWNER of Zip Cars. If they are not being taxed or paying a fee to access that public space, as DDOT manages public space in the District, you have to ask yourself would any other business, without ties to a government official, receive such perks. Obvious conflict of interest? Absolutely.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | December 8, 2010 11:21 AM | Report abuse

@concernedaboutDC - Very good suggestion about the work release folk picking up the trash. I agree entirely and hope that our city council is reading this.

Interesting you mention this as I had written a suggestion to my councilman stating that we should use a reward mechanism to deal with the Anacostia bag problem. I suggested the city buy 10 snorkels and masks and present a $1k prize to the Anacostian that gathered the most bags from the river. A much better idea than taxing all shoppers and dumping money into a fund that we all know will just turn into a loose slush fund.

Sad state of affairs in this city.

Posted by: mceoxley1 | December 8, 2010 5:33 PM | Report abuse

How long must the citizens of the district pay for the irresponsible spending of tax payers dollars by our former mayor and a council that really have no background in financing or money management. The city leaders spend on projects like we have an unlimited budget and act surprised when the well runs dry. Oh well, that's what the tax payers are for.

Posted by: tazz2 | December 9, 2010 1:08 PM | Report abuse

tazz2: I agree. I wonder if the council members manage their household budgets in the same way they handle the city's.

You know, invest in luxuries when they are suffering financial hardships.

That is exactly how they spend the taxpayer dollar.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | December 10, 2010 8:54 AM | Report abuse

concernedaboutdc: We know of at least one that does, our new council chairman.

Posted by: tazz2 | December 13, 2010 8:00 AM | Report abuse

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