[from May 2005 issue]


On May 10th, the City Council passed, on “First Reading,” our new city budget for the next fiscal year. It certainly was tempting to allocate all the unexpected tax windfall receipts for lavish new spending as would have been done in the “old days.” The Council, however, is a more fiscally thoughtful body than it once was and so was able to avoid, for the most part it seems, getting sucked into fiscal irresponsibility through entreaties by special interests or constituencies.

We recognize that there are definite needs that must be met and now that we have more revenue, even if unexpected, responsible citizenship calls for us to acknowledge that maybe the time has come to reverse the worst consequences of deferred maintenance--think schools and bridges and roads and sewers, among other collapsing infrastructure.

But it is equally important ensure adequate funding of health and social services, too often pushed aside for what have been deemed higher priorities. We must recognize that unless we strive to even the disparities between the well-off and the not well-off in this city we will find ourselves back where we were following the riots of 1968. And, that surely would hurt property values (the mention of which we slip in here only because that seems to be the one thing we all talk about--from the perspective of the well-off because of the riches it may bring and the added taxes that are a result; and from the perspective of the not well-off because of the effect these out-of-sight property values are having in causing so many residents to lose their homes due to the inevitable march of gentrification.)

Having made these observations, we nevertheless recognize that there are other considerations when it comes to allocation of resources and determining spending priorities. One thing is certain: The city’s middle class, along with lower-income homeowners whose homes have been in their families or generations, are being squeezed out due to ever-escalating property taxes, thanks to zooming assessments.

So it is that we applaud the Council for taking the first step toward a lower rate per $100 of assessed value. For too long it has remained at 96-cents; and, while lowering it by only two cents is not nearly as much as we or many others have advocated, it is an important first step for the politicians who have now awakened to the fact that 96 cents should not be carved in stone like a federal monument. Added to the small per $100 rate decrease and the lowering of the cap by another two percent to 10 percent this year, plus the new revenue projection formula incorporated into the spending bill that will serve to reign in unrealistic revenue projections by building in a mechanism that will allow for further decreases in ensuing years, we may be on the right track at last.

But, we must continue to insist that our politicians carefully monitor spending. There is still vastly too much waste on cockamamie undertakings, inappropriate travel and conferencing expenses, and outside contractors, many of whom seem to be pals of out-of-state officials lured to high positions here to serve in jobs that local DC folk would be equally, if not better, suited to perform as actual employees and not as overpaid “consultants.”

Furthermore, while we applaud the fact that the Council has recognized the need to earmark some $20 million for school infrastructure rebuilding, as well as textbooks and not to fire teachers to cover those costs, we still are dubious that this won’t be yet another instance of good money being thrown after bad at the school system. For more years than we can recall, the schools have been environmental hellholes, while the business about no books seemingly ever on hand at the start or even well into the school year has been a plague forever, and previous promises and dollar allocations “guaranteed” to solve that problem have not seemed to produce results.

So, while we applaud the Council for being on the right track and trying to be vigilant as to how the funds are being utilized by the bureaucracy, we have no allusions that we will be solving these matters anytime soon. But, if the politicians do succeed on getting a handle on all the waste so that in the next budget cycle they may be able to appropriate adequate program funds and at the same time keep us headed in the direction of more property tax relief, that alone will help the economy overall and that could mean more revenue might be generated from increased consumer spending and business investment.

Taxes and tax policy, budgeting and monitoring expenditures is really all part of one seamless web.