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It’s times like these that we don’t envy the politicians one whit! We realize they are literally “between a rock and a hard place” as they try to satisfy their constituents and at the same time come up with a plan that will balance the fiscal year 2012 budget –- a truly daunting task in light of the projected deficit well in excess of $300 million.

Clearly, cuts in many programs can be made without destroying people’s lives, but so far the most dramatic proposed cuts seem to be ones that could definitely destroy the already difficult lives of our economically, socially, and health-wise disadvantaged neighbors. We urge the members of the city council to scour these budgets very intensely to identify items that can safely be stripped out and yet not do true harm; carefully pruning rather than chopping away with an axe must be the approach. And, yet, at the same time the council members must take deep breaths and fight any temptation to claim that their pet programs are essential to the survival of the city and its residents; let them all be truly honest and claim programs essential when they truly are.

An example of what to avoid: Rather than Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh pushing to divert $200,000 from the District’s technology agency so as to pump up her pet program of promoting children’s healthy eating –- albeit a worthy initiative but at this point in time not as critical as retaining those funds where they will be put to good use in the on-going upgrading of the government’s computer and communications systems which, in recent time have finally shown major improvements. This upgrading of the technology infrastructure improves agency efficiency and has the effect of lowering operating costs. Already residents and businesses are benefiting by being able to access information directly pertaining to them in a manner that makes interaction with the agencies quicker and ensuring accurate information as to how to proceed with any number of matters requiring attention.

Also, care must be taken not to cut programs or services that have an impact on growing the economy which, it goes without saying, is key if the tax base and resulting tax receipts are to recover to pre-recession levels. So, for example, the Mayor’s new “one-stop shopping” center for licenses and permits at the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs should definitely be fully funded. (We do, however, note a caveat: A former mayor unveiled a similar thing to great fanfare a few years ago but it never seemed to have resulted in any real improvements; obtaining needed inspections and having permits issued continued to be a drawn-out process delaying new businesses or projects for months on end, thus causing substantial losses of new tax receipts and delaying newly created jobs from being filled by taxpaying workers.)

But what about revenue. Many thoughtful persons are advocating that taxable incomes over $200,000 be subject to a rate of 8.9 percent, an increase from 8.5 percent. In our commentary in this space last month we did endorse city council at-large candidate Bryan Weaver’s progressive, six-tier tax bracket proposal that he calculated “would lessen the tax burden for some [of] our city’s neediest residents, . . . [and] would also more equitably distribute the tax burden and increase revenues without dramatic increase in taxes.” He also told us that he “would support creating an exemption from higher rates for qualified [Schedule] C small businesses.” By Weaver’s calculations the District would also collect more income taxes because the higher brackets would be taxed at rates in excess of what is now charged.

And, while we did then, and still do, like the overall Weaver plan, we thought it important to ask for comment from the city council’s finance and revenue committee chairman, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans. He responded as follows:

“While I am generally supportive of a more progressive tax structure, I believe that the highest tax bracket should not exceed 8.5%. I would support a 6% tax rate for those who earn between $40,000 and $100,000. In this manner, those who earn less pay less. It is important to note that of the 289,851 tax returns filed this year, only 18,000 filers earned more than $200,000 and only 4,600 earned more than $500,000. These individuals comprise a mere 7 percent of our taxpayers, yet pay over 52% of our taxes.”

We are not astute enough to know what the best answers are for overcoming this deficit, but we do know one thing: nickel and dimeing the residents and small businesses in order to raise a few hundred thousand dollars here and there, like the new scheme to charge $65 to replace one’s blue recycling cart issued by DPW that may have been stolen or even seriously damaged by the lifting machinery on a DPW truck is not the way to solve our fiscal problems. (By the way, has anyone calculated the costs to the department to bill for, collect and process individual $65 checks?).