[from April 2007 issue]


Given what we have lately been hearing in City Council debates and Mayoral pronouncements, one would not be faulted for believing that nasty, bad fiscal habits are coming back into vogue in DC. We earnestly hope this is not to be the case, but the evidence seems to be pointing away from our hope.

What we sense is that, at least in the Mayor’s office, the reality of the softening real estate market and other negative pressures affecting that sector, such as the sub-prime lending debacle that is bound to impact even here in the city, is simply being ignored. We have a sense of ill-ease, even dread, that those well-intentioned souls haven’t caught on to the realistic prospect of notably lower tax receipts from real estate in the very near future as a result of the slow-down, not only in actual real estate sales but in sale prices; that the gravy train may be slowing down to the point where the days of the city’s revenue windfalls may be coming to an end.

And, yet, here we are still giving away loose cash like as if that gravy train were actually accelerating!

Right at the top of the list, of course – though it’s too late to reverse course, has been that great money pit known as the baseball stadium. We are told that we needn’t be worried about spending more taxpayer dollars now, yet we wonder when we are going to be hit up for some huge outlay to build the garages that were supposed to have been built in the first place? We are willing to bet the farm that the team owners won’t make a move to shell out the dollars; they will figure out a way to get the politicians to come up with some outrageous plan to let them avoid spending another dime of their own and justify such a give-away on the basis of being allowed to occupy another VIP skybox at no charge.

And, speaking of VIP skyboxes at stadiums, we are absolutely appalled by that $50 mil handout to Abe Pollin so that he can upgrade his basketball arena. Yes, we have listened carefully to all the arguments for and against but at the end of the day we have concluded that this was just beyond the pale. We hear about how Abe was the sole savior of a crummy downtown. Yes, the MCI –- now Verizon -– Center was a big help, but so was the city, what with all the land deals and tax forgiveness deals that were entered into; Abe was hardly disadvantaged by any of this.

The supporters say that this will be a good deal for the city since we are supposed to gain title to the structure somewhere near mid-century and it, therefore, is in the interests of the taxpayers that we get back a structure that is in good condition and still desirable for its designed use. While at first blush this seems a very plausible argument, we believe that the reality will be that by that time, no matter how much is done to try to keep it spiffy and up-to-date, it won’t be worth much as an arena and the more likely thing will be that it will be razed and a new building of some kind built. So why keep pretending that giving Abe more taxpayer dollars to upgrade an arena we won’t use anyway is in our best interest leaves us scratching our head.

We have also been told that the $50 mil will bring immediate benefits to the city. Yet, about the only thing we have heard as to what we will get for that $50 mil is a fancy VIP skybox to be used by the Mayor and members of the City Council and their good friends. How does that benefit the hoi polloi? It doesn’t. But, to have been able to direct that $50 mil to the pathetic branch libraries or the even more pathetic rec centers and parks would really have benefited all.

Furthermore, we do not believe it is appropriate for elected officials to be taking in sporting and entertainment events while sitting in freebie VIP skyboxes thanks to the generosity of a businessman or business corporation that is seeking favors from the city. And, just because there is such an arrangement at the new baseball stadium hardly justifies it at the Verizon Center. When will it end? Will we be giving away RFK to Dan Snyder for his obnoxiously named football team and getting yet another VIP skybox in return? We hope not.

The lesson being taught here is that money doesn’t seem to mean anything to those who would spend ours. The Mayor figures he can pull a fast one by imposing his new 911 emergency services tax on telephone services and get away with it by calling it a fee! One would think he once worked for OMB in a Republican administration! What a crock -– the thing is a serious tax and will have a clearly negative impact not only on business but on even average residents. At-large Councilmember is absolutely on target with his opposition; we urge the other council members to join with him.

Tactics like attempting to impose new taxes by calling them fees is fakery at best, chicanery at worst. Such tactics wouldn’t be necessary if our politicians were not on the road once again to fiscal irresponsibility.

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