- The Washington Times - Friday, September 28, 2001

Folks who live and work in and around Washington may not have noticed yet, but they're practically the only folks here. Tourists are staying away, and convention planners are either postponing events or canceling them outright leaving the regional economy teetering and officials scrambling for dollars.
Indeed, Mayor Williams and others are salivating over the Congressional Black Caucus' legislative weekend, which is putting on its annual display of liberalism this week and is expected to drop an estimated $5 million into the city's thinly lined pockets. The dollars generated by those events, though, will be but a drop in the proverbial bucket for the local hospitality industry, which annually funnels 20 million visitors and $4 billion into the D.C. economy but has lost $10 million daily since Sept. 11 mostly due to the closing of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.
Indeed, there is a huge difference between what the District's economic engines looked like on Sept. 10 and what they look like today. Before the terrorist attacks, hotel occupancy rates stood at a record 75 percent, while today they hover between 30 percent and 50 percent. Last September, there were 3,700 new jobs in the District, while today 1,500 D.C. residents who work at Reagan Airport are jobless. The sum of those factors alone portends a deficit as well as congressionally mandated safeguards, which should be legislated in a week or two.
"We are faced with a precarious situation," D.C. Council member Jack Evans, chairman of the city's finance and revenue panel, told this newspaper's Jabeen Bhatti. "There is the possibility of going into a deficit situation at the end of [fiscal] 2002. Our local congressmen have to do something, or we will certainly be in a deficit situation by fiscal [2003]."
Now, there are lots of suggestions on the table about stabilizing the economy and recouping losses, including pushing for the reopening of Reagan airport, spending a few million to promote the best of Washington, seeking federal aid, cutting spending and raising taxes. Of course, any proposal to raise taxes or impose new taxes, including a commuter tax, must be stamped dead on arrival. The purpose of any new tax policy in the District should have two goals and two goals only: To lure and retain residents. Raising taxes would have the opposite effect, and with the District and Northern Virginia hurting right now, the last thing commuters and businesses want to discuss is a commuter tax.
On the other hand, taxpayers have never seen a budget that couldn't be cut, and the city's fat $5.3 billion budget can stand to be trimmed. Also, because you have to spend money to make money, the hospitality industry is kicking in big bucks to help promote the nation's capital. And, as far as Reagan airport is concerned, the issue for federal authorities is not whether it will open but when. That airport is, after all, the gateway to the capital of the free world.
Now, as for federal aid, that money ought to come but with strings attached because Congress' oversight panel, the control board, plans to turn out its lights on Sept. 30. Said Russell Smith, staff director of the House D.C. panel: "We don't want to write a blank check. The District has to make their case." Indeed.

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