[from February 2005 issue]


Here we go again. Just recently we learned that the city’s chief financial officer has discovered that we are headed for a huge windfall budget surplus--millions upon millions of dollars! Then we see that without hardly waiting to take a breath, the mayor has dumped on the council a huge spending increase proposal. Why not?--after all, we’ve suddenly got all that money!

Thankfully, members of the council just as quickly are saying, “Wait-a-minute--why are spending increases being put forth for programs that are either of questionable value or even programs that may be phased out?” Maybe the mayor thought the council members wouldn’t be paying attention now that the election season dust finally settled.

We are very pleased, once again, to see that so many members of the council are carrying out their oversight responsibilities and are willing to ask the right questions and demand meaningful answers before making spending decisions.

But why should we have to, apparently almost yearly, be complaining about the mayor’s spendthrift approach with other people’s money? (See, for example, “Money-Grubbin’ Guvm’nt Just Won’t Give Up!,” January 2000; “Skyrocketing Assessments = Tax Windfall For The City,” April 2002; “Maybe It's Time To Think The Unthinkable: Taxpayer Revolt!,” April 2003.)

Once again, we learn that homeowners’ assessments on their properties all across the city will be skyrocketing. Luckily for us, Ward 2 Councilmemeber Jack Evans, using his position as chairman of the Committee on Finance and Revenue, was able, with the strong support of several colleagues (notably David Catania, to single out but just one enlightened legislator), to shepherd through the 12 percent cap on individual actual real estate tax bills. But, that is only a stop-gap measure, especially in light of this year’s increase which will mean for substantial numbers of homeowners that by the time they pay their 2006 tax bills they will have faced, in a mere two-year period, the trauma of having to pay out 25 percent more in real estate taxes than 24 months previously.

This is incredibly excessive. So, rather than find ways to spend vast millions of windfall money--made possible in large measure on the backs of homeowners--why not give much of it back through the simple device of lowering the owner-occupied single-family residence tax rate from the present per $100 rate? Be bold, shave off a nickel per $100--maybe even a penny or two more--but do it!

An Adams Morgan resident by the name of Matt Forman, who is also the president of the Kalorama Citizens Association, probably has best expressed the frustration of homeowner-taxpayers across the city regarding rapidly escalating real estate tax revenues without any apparent concomitant value. In a recent posting in a neighborhood electronic circular, under his own heading of “Return the Budget Surplus to the Homeowners,” he had this to say:

“As the Washington Post reported, the city has yet another budget surplus. At the beginning of every year, the city's Chief Financial Officer claims that the sky is falling, but by the end of each year, he announces a surplus. No doubt, a large part of the surplus was derived from massive real property tax increases paid by residents over the past few years. The article mentions that part of the surplus will fund reductions in income tax--a paltry reduction from 9.3 percent to 9.0 percent, resulting in a savings of $150 for $50,000 of income, which pales in comparison to the real estate tax burdens homeowners have had to bear. In many cases, real estate taxes have doubled, resulting in an increase in payments of hundreds to thousands of dollars per homeowner per year. But since the income tax reduction applies to all incomes over $30,000, this means that the surplus will be spread to non-homeowners who shared no part of the increased property tax burden. The money should be rightfully paid back to the people who paid it in the first place.”

We couldn’t agree more!