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Posted at 4:13 PM ET, 12/17/2010

Debating the District's deficit: Drawing conclusions

By Martin Austermuhle

Over the last two days, we've featured two distinct views on the District's growing budget deficit -- Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) on why higher taxes are needed and Councilmember Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) on why more cuts are necessary.

Both Wells and Evans made valid points. Wells is right to argue that we should all be ready to pay for the amenities we enjoy in the District, be it bike lanes or all-day three- and four-year-old programs. Moreover, not everything is equal in the District -- there is certainly a growing class of residents that was left behind in the boom and devastated by the bust, and a diverse and vibrant city demands that they be offered assistance to live to their full potential.

On the other hand, Evans correctly points out that the District is broadly uncompetitive when it comes to taxes, driving away potential taxpayers and businesses who might otherwise call the city home. Additionally, the 65 percent growth in government spending since 2002 simply isn't sustainable, and every dollar allocated to the bureaucracy or specific programs must be efficiently spend and scrupulously accounted for.

Both Councilmembers admit that the city is out of balance, but they disagree on the direction in which the balance now mistakenly falls. Wells is more likely to claim that the cuts in social services that have been made over the past three years have been substantial, while Evans will claim that they haven't even really started. Evans will complain that taxes are too high as it is, while Wells will admit that he and his wife would be happy to pay more into the system if it meant keeping some programs funded.

Their respective claims are certainly informed by who they are -- Wells is a former social worker, Evans a corporate lawyer; Wells represents Ward 6, Evans, Ward 2.
Of course, there's plenty that both said that we could take issue with. Evans, for starters, presented himself as a guy who knows finances so well because he's been on the Council for so long and heads up its finance committee. But that long history is chock full of contradictions. If government spending ballooned over the last six years, where was Evans to put a stop to it?

He does chair the committee charged with reviewing the budget, after all. And though he mocked the gimmicks that Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly used which eventually brought the District the Control Board, he admits that even he voted for them. Finally, Evans owns up to the fact that a large and ever-increasing chunk of the city's dollars go to education, which Mayor Adrian Fenty made the cornerstone of his administration. Evans, as many might recall, was one of Fenty's most reliable boosters on the Council. History and expertise cut both ways, it seems.

As for Wells, he chairs the Committee on Human Services, the very body that oversees the area where the District spends the largest chunk of its cash. It ultimately falls on him to do the type of scrubbing of agency budgets that many are calling for.

Continue reading this piece by Martin Austermuhle here at

Martin Austermuhle blogs at DCist. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

By Martin Austermuhle  | December 17, 2010; 4:13 PM ET
Categories:  HotTopic, Local blog network  
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