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Brown’s D.C. budget markup eliminates many tax hikes

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With the D.C.'s spending plan now in his hands, D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown is steadfast on what will happen to Mayor Vincent C. Gray's proposal to raise the income tax on wealthier households.

No way, no how.

"I've made it clear, even during my campaign, that I would not support an income tax increase," Mr. Brown said. "People were just tired of being nickel-and-dimed to death."

Mr. Brown is facing his first true test of leadership as he fine-tunes the fiscal year 2012 budget. The most fiery debates during this budget cycle have focused on the mayor's proposals to raise $127 million in tax and revenue initiatives while implementing a battery of austere cuts, including a proposed funding reduction of $113.4 million, or 8 percent, to health and human services.

In an interview at his council office, Mr. Brown said his plan will find a balance among the District's responsibilities to the needy, the business community and bond raters on Wall Street. It's a difficult task in a budget year with many needs and few funds.

Yet, Mr. Brown noted, "I signed up for this."

The chairman said a sales tax on live theater will not be in his proposal. As he irons out final details, he would also like to see parking meter rates return to the quarter-for-15 minutes ratio or remove restrictions between 6:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. -- a nod to the importance of the arts and small businesses in the District.

Elimination of at least some of the proposed tax increases gained traction earlier in the week, despite concerns from some council members of an inequitable burden on the needy.

Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, argued in budget discussions that seven of the mayor's 13 tax and fee initiatives were not necessary in light of an anticipated revenue bump for the District in June. As chairman of the Committee on Finance and Revenue, his axe would take down a 0.4 percent increase in the income tax on households making $200,000 and the expansion of the sales tax to live theater.

Those priorities dovetail with Mr. Brown's, as the chairman crafts his proposal for presentation to the council members by Tuesday and an initial vote scheduled for Wednesday..

"It's totally in his hands," Mr. Evans said.

Mr. Brown sees this as a "transformational budget year," in which the council must commit 50 percent of additional quarterly revenues to replenish the general fund balance; 25 percent to invest in the District's needs, such as infrastructure and police; and 25 percent to resident and safety-net services.

Mr. Brown said his fiscal year 2012 budget will restore funding for homeless services, and fund Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the Interim Disability Assistance with some restrictions.

A large group of homeless persons and activists visited his office last week to demand funding. The fact they've been the only large pack to lobby council members inside the John A. Wilson Building in recent weeks is "unusual" and speaks to the balance within the mayor's plan and his own proposal to the council, according to Mr. Brown.

The public will see how that balancing act turns out by mid-week, when the council votes on supporting legislation for the budget. A final vote is scheduled for June 14.

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