[from April 2003 issue]


Our wildly out-of-control tax and spend city administrators don't seem to understand the level of intense resentment that is boiling up among the taxpayers. We think they believe it's just the rich people who are being hit with huge assessment increases that will lead to big bucks outlays come real estate tax due day next September 15. Wrong. It's the moderate- and lower-income homeowners who will be most seriously affected, the ones without tax shelters, trust funds, savings and investments--the folk who live from week-to-week, barely able to scrape together the monthly mortgage payments and pay their other bills.

While a 15 or 20 percent increase in real estate assessments may only account for a few hundred dollars in additional taxes for the average person, that's real money that they don't have. These are, for the most part, people who have been in their homes for many years, even generations; they are the glue of our communities, the very kind of citizens we need to have for the stability they bring to our neighborhoods. When questions of tax policy are being hashed out by our city council members and Williams Administration "experts," they had better take this into account.

Fortunately, as it appears to us based on what we're hearing, there may be an excellent way to deal with at least the urgent matter of blocking the revenue windfall from increased property assessments that the mayor is salivating over. Although we have previously advocated what seemed to us the reasonable idea of simply lowering the 96-cents per $100 assessed value tax rate on homes by a few pennies, the council's very astute and fiscally sound-thinking chairman of its finance and revenue committee, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, told us of a better plan that he would like to see implemented: Doubling the Homestead Exemption from its present $30,000 to $60,000.

We think that's brilliant. The beauty of the plan, as explained to us by Chairman Evans, is that it will benefit the property owners most in need of protection--single-family home and condo owners who actually live in those homes. Yes, it will cost--somewhere between $20 and $30 million, he estimates. But, according to Evans, his council colleague David Catania (one of our really effective at-large members who, like Phil Mendelson and Carol Schwartz knows how to hone in on the tough questions and find creative solutions), has already identified $60 million in potential savings, and Evans sees another $20 million. We pointedly asked whether these "savings" would come out of needed health and social service programs, and we were assured that they would not be hit.

But how will that be possible, given that we are already headed toward a whopping deficit for this fiscal year unless some fairly Draconian cutbacks are made ASAP? Well, based on revelations that seem to spill out on the pages of The Washington Post almost weekly, there are vast sums being squandered away through sweetheart, sole-source contract deals with vast hordes of outside "expert" consultants and contractors allegedly doing tasks that apparently the citizens of the District are too stupid to perform, even if given the opportunity to do so. But what are we getting for all these incredibly expensive private deals that are costing millions upon millions of dollars. We have yet to discern any provable benefits to municipal operations attributed to those gangs of feeders at the public trough.

And, we still have the on-going problems of failure by various agencies to obtain substantial federal funds that, presumably, were factored into the budgets of agencies, simply for the reason of failure to complete required paperwork. The latest scandal was revealed in The Post on April 8. That involves almost $3 million of federal funds for child support programs that we could have had if only someone had made sure to file federally-required documentation in timely fashion. To quote the late, great Republican Senate Majority Leader Everett Dirksen of Illinois when he commented in a Senate floor debate on an appropriation measure over 30 years ago, "A million here, a million there--soon we're talking real money!"

The politicians absolutely must stop allowing our government from taxing us to death, particularly when it turns around and squanders what it gets and, to add insult to injury, doesn't make much effort to ensure that it receives all that it is entitled to receive. Everywhere we turn we see new schemes to squeeze bucks out of us, all the while pronouncing the end of life as we know it unless we pony up.

Pony up for what? More sole-source consultants and contractors on the take, mayoral palace guards to rival the White House, pulling highly-paid middle management officials away from their regular duties and detailing them for weeks at a time to a re-election campaign committee staff thereby interfering so much with the delivery of services that costs rise as a result?

Nope--the time is now: Stop this insanity. Reduce our tax burden--and don't turn around and try to make up the difference through nefarious schemes like the Master Business License imbroglio that has now developed a confiscatory fee structure designed to turn the program into a profit center to raise revenue for the general budget rather than simply to raise enough funds to cover the actual administrative costs as called for in the legislation. Back off now!