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Posted at 1:55 PM ET, 02/17/2011

Biddle walks back from taxing the rich

By Tim Craig

D.C. Council member Sekou Biddle now says he does not support raising taxes on six-figure District residents, seeking to clarify comments he made earlier in the week to The Washington Post.

Biddle, an interim member who must stand for election April 26, issued a statement Thursday saying he will not support a tax increase this year, at least for now.

"I do not support a tax hike on businesses, individuals or households making above $125,000," Biddle (D-At Large) said. "The District is facing a major fiscal shortfall, but solving the problem doesn't mean we need to be short-sighted. We can't start addressing our budget challenges by putting taxes on the table up front."

On Tuesday, Biddle told The Washington Post that his first priority would be working with his colleagues to cut the budget to try to close an estimated $400 million to $600 million shortfall.

But in a conflicting series of statements, Biddle said he thought the council would also have to look to higher taxes to balance the budget. The interview highlighted Biddle's inexperience in trying to navigate the political minefields associated with the tax debate in a city with both large numbers of needy residents and some of the highest concentrations of wealth in the country.

"We have to figure out is there is anything we can cut that is not a need, and then we will fill the hole with fees and taxes somehow," Biddle said Tuesday. "I would rather drop, frankly, the tax rate for the lowest wage earners in the city first. The whole notion for them being disproportionately burdened with taxes I think is right, so why are we are on their backs? Let's give them a break and recoup the money somewhere else."

Biddle then cautioned that his primary energy would be spent on cutting the budget, but he quickly added, "I'm willing to [raise taxes] at the end of the process."

When asked Tuesday whom he would consider raising taxes on, Biddle replied, "My preference would be at $125,000, because that is what we make." On Wednesday, he reiterated to the Washington Examiner that he would consider raising taxes on people who make at least $125,000 if the council concludes it cannot cut enough from the budget.

But in the statement issued Thursday, Biddle sought to put distance between himself and the tax debate.

"Being responsible stewards means reducing waste, creating efficiencies and balancing the budget without raising taxes," said Biddle, who faces more than a half-dozen opponents in the special election. "The most recent audit of the District's budget revealed that there are numerous examples of waste in government. The council should share the burden of fixing this problem by considering cuts to its own budget."

By Tim Craig  | February 17, 2011; 1:55 PM ET
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Ok, John Kerry..."I voted for it, before I voted against it"...

A change of heart in less than 24 hrs, looks like some of them donors made some phone calls.

Bibble, this is why we have a hard time with your candidacy, WHO ARE YOU? We are not looking for a Manchurian Candidate.

Posted by: dropem95 | February 17, 2011 6:13 PM | Report abuse

I haven't decided yet who I am going to vote for but it won't be Biddle. This flip flopping shows that he is more interested in garnering votes than standing for something he knows is the right thing to do. He is already afraid of making decisions that will upset the wealthy.

Posted by: letsbereal2 | February 17, 2011 9:08 PM | Report abuse

Before raising taxes, Mayor Gray and the Council MUST MAKE A CONCERTED EFFORT to collect business taxes that are already on the books and eliminate fraud, waste, and abuse already identified by the executive and legislative branches namely through the DC Auditor and Office of the Inspector General (OIG) reports.

How can the gap of $400 - $600 million be closed?

1. $300m of unpaid, uncollected parking tickets. Establishing an amnesty program like the Office of Tax and Revenue has done recently can help recoup some significant portion of the $300m.

2. Collect $20m per annum from the possessory interest tax to businesses. Approx. $25m was uncollected in FY10. CM Evans proposed allowing Union Station get a $34m freebie. DC needs to enforce the law and collect. Tell CM Evans to implement effective oversight.

3. Reign in overtime at Dept of Public Works (DPW), Fire & Emergency Services (FEMS), Office of the Chief Financial Officer (OCFO) and other wasteful, abusive agencies. The city auditors, namely the OIG, have researched the abuse and fraud by dept managers when approving overtime. While overtime is necessity it is not an entitlement that employees should expect to supplement their base salary.

4. Eliminate fraud by removing VA, MD residents off the TANF and food stamp rolls through more stringent residency verification controls.

5. Eliminate waste by ceasing the practice of housing the region's homeless during hypothermia and throughout the year through more stringent residency verification controls.

6. Eliminate waste by installing motion lights in all DC buildings that are on 24hrs-7days per week, especially in the bathrooms. Private sector commercial buildings implement this green, cost-effective approach to save on costs.

7. Enhance efficient gov't workforce development by completing jurisdictional comparison of city employees per capita (e.g. target the Office of the Atty General employees, MPD civilian, non-patrol service employees, OCFO, etc). Indeed DC has state functions but how do we compare to Delaware, CT, RI and on other states on a per capita basis. Currently, the DC gov't has about 20 employees per resident and that excludes contract employees. Mayor Barry expanded DC gov't. How much should it contract? Mayor Fenty eliminated 3,000 reportedly redundant, non-crucial positions. How many will Mayor Gray eliminate?

These are just a few of many ways to close the gap before raising taxes.

It's a fact that Mayor Fenty and Chairman Gray submitted an OCFO-certified balance budget for 4 years. We'll never know what budget Mayor Fenty might have proposed for FY12.... Regardless, raising taxes without performing due diligence is the lazy approach that the DC government should not take. And taking such an irresponsible approach is not deserving of the $100K+ salaries Council members and high-level executive branch receive...from taxpayer dollars.

Posted by: jmc39 | February 18, 2011 5:05 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Biddle...Mr.Biddle,PLEASE do all of us a favor and dropout of the race. You have NO business on the council like many of your NO GOOD FRIENDS! You will NEVER get my VOTE or anyone else in WARDS 7&8!

Posted by: me4dc1 | February 18, 2011 8:59 PM | Report abuse

As a District of Columbia employee, I would say move the District back to the Fed. and stop this non-sense government with lack of expertise Council Members; $125K for a part-time CM!! For WHAT!!

Posted by: DCEmployee | February 18, 2011 9:48 PM | Report abuse





Posted by: asil7981 | February 19, 2011 1:45 AM | Report abuse

Biddle seems like a nice enough guy but appears to be in over his head. It will be interesting to see if the voters go for the establishment's hard sell on him.

Posted by: Art17 | February 21, 2011 9:05 AM | Report abuse

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