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SIMMONS: Gray spending plan could use a splash of color

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Nothing ventured, nothing gained. That about sums up the Gray administration's message as the budget season gets under way.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray released his 2013 spending plan for the District on Friday, and at first blush it appears to grant D.C. taxpayers a special wish by not proposing new fees and taxes that would gnaw on the strained budgets of working- and middle-class families.

But it may be smoke and mirrors, folks, since the mayor knew he didn't have to push the no-new-taxes genie out of its comfortable surroundings.

Still, it's an illusion and a distraction that hides the fact that he's depending on the tax-and-spend true bloods on the D.C. Council to clear the air in the name of the brothers and sisters for the poor.

Lawmakers, the original taxpayers, deem the city's social safety net as threadbare each spring, and this season is no different.

But casting taxes and fees aside until the council begins its review of the mayor's plan, here's something that's truly disappointing: The mayor's plan spells s-a-f-e.

Nothing new or exciting. Nothing that even guarantees the unemployed, underemployed or poor families will indeed be better off in the near future.

The $9.4 billion plan calls for new spending that pours tens of millions of additional dollars into education, public safety and housing, and makes the usual arguments for raising the stakes on workforce programs, welfare reform lite, and parking and traffic enforcement.

Sadly, innovative policies and out-of-the-box policies are nowhere to be found.

Take affordable housing by way of example.

The mayor missed a golden opportunity to encourage teachers, police and firefighters to actually reside where they earn their living.

While Mr. Gray keeps economically downtrodden residents on the east side of the Anacostia River and those crime-weary residents all across the city in his sight line, he fails to notice that they all would be better off living among police officers and firefighters who are sworn to protect them.

Creating affordable housing for our first responders and educators would make those D.C. employees truly vested in our communities.

As things stand now, these life-risking, life-building professionals earn a living here but plop their hard-earned tax dollars into coffers controlled by politicians in Maryland, Virginia and other states.

And take another look at the jargon in the mayor's spending plan.

On page 17 of the budget overview handed out Friday, he highlighted what he characterized as "affordable housing investments."

Well, folks, clear the smoke.

c There's $6.2 million in new local spending for rent supplements for the D.C. Housing Authority.

c And, oh, look in the mirror, because there's $19.9 million for rent subsidies for the Housing Production Trust Fund.

c And, um, another $6.2 million for Department of Mental Health housing subsidies.

All three subsidies take from working- and middle-class taxpayers with little return on investment.

Robbing Peter, never paying Paul

Mr. Gray, his predecessors and lawmakers have played favorites when it comes to transportation, hating motorists and coddling bicyclists, giving the latter a free ride while punishing motorists every time they start their engines.

Well, to get another perspective, I turned to council at-large candidate E. Gail Anderson Holness, who continues to make parking a top priority of her platform.

Asked what city hall should be doing about the dearth of public parking and tendency to rely on parking-enforcement policies and revenues that grant no return-on-investment for D.C. residents, Ms. Holness said:

"We need to build more public parking facilities for D.C. motorists. There is plenty of land we could co-op for parking facilities. Nobody's thinking about it, and nobody's talking about it but me. I'm in favor of bike lanes ... and privileges for the handicap. I don't know that we need any increase anywhere for parking or traffic enforcement ... because of disparities in income. I do know that we will have 'One City' if everybody is driven out when they [can't afford] to live here."

Hmm. Her comments point out another fact the mayor has seemingly forgotten.

Since the 1960s, the District has always buttered its bread with black working- and middle-class families.

If city hall continues to rob them, they'll get the boot - and get a different perspective on what it means to be out of a job.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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About the Author
Deborah Simmons

Deborah Simmons

Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...

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