- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 14, 2001

In his $5.9 billion budget for fiscal year 2002, Mayor Williams essentially acquiesces to the priorities of voters and other taxpayers. While there are spending increases, for example public and charters schools get about $57.5 million more than this year's budget, the mayor remains mindful that revenues barely show modest gains and that cash reserves must nonetheless be maintained. To that end, lawmakers are bound to nitpick his policy particulars before granting their legislative blessings. However, there is an item on the FY 2002 budget table that could go along way toward making the city's future even brighter.

Mayor Williams wants to make the city more hospitable to the middle class. He wants them to buy homes in the District, pay their property and income taxes to the District and send their children to public and charter schools in the District. In other words, he wants the middle class to once again call the District their home.

The mayor knows that merely building houses will not necessarily mean the middle class will come. He does understand, though, (and it is hoped the D.C. Council does as well) that the middle class is the bread and the butter of any American metropolis. Moreover, it is to be hoped both the mayor and the council recall the history and the politics of it all.

Both perceptions and realities led more than 300,000 mostly middle class residents to uproot their families between 1960 and the late 1990s as the city teeter-tottered from one moniker ("Chocolate City") to another ("Murder Capital"). Along the way it swaggered from being a vibrant city to one of haves and many have-nots that left it dead and broke and struggling to serve the needy. Fortunately, the D.C. Council reversed a few of the laws and liberal entitlements that bled the city's coffers dry revealing an understanding that you cannot provide for the poor if the tax base to pay those bills has already put in a change of address.

The mayor's housing initiative is no panacea. But it cuts to the chase, attracting families who earn up to $82,800 with new houses, offering tax breaks to developers and granting incentives to longtime residents who want to renovate property in historic districts, including Anacostia, Capitol Hill and Shaw. Of course, no plan can please all of the people all of the time, so Mr. Williams' housing initiative has its share of detractors. However, instead of a protracted debate, all the mayor really and truly need do is borrow a familiar refrain: "Have I got a house for you."


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