- The Washington Times - Monday, May 16, 2011

The D.C. Council should scrap seven of the 13 tax and fee initiatives proposed in Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year, a council member with oversight of D.C. finances said Monday.

Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat and chairman of the Committee on Finance and Revenue, said an unrealized revenue bump this June should be able to cover the $90 million in expected revenue from raising the income tax on people making more than $200,000 per year, keeping a 6 percent sales tax that expands to live theater, decoupling from federal tax cuts, doubling the Circulator bus fare from $1 to $2, raising the garage tax from 12 percent to 18 percent, adjusting withholding and establishing combined reporting.

Mr. Evans said he does not oppose the mayor’s six other revenue initiatives in the fiscal year 2012 budget plan.

The issue cascaded into the most intense exchanges during budget talks among the 13-member council at the John A. Wilson Building. The roundtable allowed committee chairmen to jockey for limited funds and tout priorities ranging from services for downtown homeless persons to the expansion of hours for alcohol sales and the reigning in of juvenile offenders placed out of state.

Discussions ranged from the serious to the boisterous, with Chairman Kwame R. Brown mediating disputes and asking various members to cease side-chats from time to time. The discussions centered on typical debates about public safety and cuts to social services, yet branched in subtler issues such as unpaved alleys and parking fees. Council members will vote on the budget May 25, with a second vote scheduled for June 14.

A few council members, notably Marion Barry, said Mr. Evans‘ revenue plan is an “irresponsible” way to budget, terming it the “punt and kick” method.

“We’ve done it in the past,” Mr. Evans said.

“Not of this nature. I’ve been here,” said, Mr. Barry a Ward 8 Democrat.

Council member David A. Catania, at-large independent, interjected with a critical view of Mr. Barry’s long tenure in D.C. government.

Marion, I’ll give you this, you know something about irresponsible budgeting,” Mr. Catania said. “I’ll give you that … You know it when you see it.”

Council Member Phil Mendelson urged the council to find $11 million in funding to add 180 officers to the Metropolitan Police Department in addition to 120 officers recommended by the mayor’s plan, bringing the force to slightly more than 3,900 officers by September 2012 if the city accounts for attrition.

His recommendation sparked a lively debate on the actual rate of attrition. Mr. Catania argued that the force would dip below 3,800 officers by the end of summer. Mr. Mendelson said his calculations show that is not true and that Mr. Catania used a rate of attrition that is too high.

Mr. Mendelson, at-large Democrat, said the rate is closer to 15 officers departing per month, while Mr. Catania maintained it is 15 to 20 per month.

Even with an attrition rate of 15 per month, Mr. Catania said, the number of officers can decline to dangerously low levels by the end of summer because recruitment is dormant. He said officers behind desks should be transferred to the streets, and non-sworn personnel, or “civilianization,” should be used to buttress their ranks.

“I don’t think these [measures] are enormously disruptive,” he said after the meeting.

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