- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 1, 2002

A rift developed in the D.C. Council over continuing the Tax Parity Act, as six of the 13 council members spoke out yesterday against proceeding with the tax cuts at the expense of city services.
"Providing essential services is the number one priority; avoiding massive deficits is next; cutting taxes comes when we can afford it," said at-large council member Harold Brazil Sr.
From the steps of the Wilson Building yesterday evening, Mr. Brazil and five of his Democratic colleagues council members Vincent Orange, Ward 5; Sandy Allen, Ward 8; Jim Graham, Ward 1; Adrian Fenty, Ward 4; and Phil Mendelson, at-large decried the decisions of several council committee chairmen to cut some city services to fund income-tax cuts.
The "Fiscal Six," as they called themselves, took up the position that D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams had been promoting since he sent the budget to the council in mid-March.
Mr. Orange was particularly concerned with the Judiciary Committee's decision to cut overtime and new hires for the Metropolitan Police Department and the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department.
"It is hard for me to accept these cuts in the police department when crime is rising in [Ward 5]," Mr. Orange said.
Continuing cuts under the Tax Parity Act would put the District's income-tax rates on par with those in Maryland and Virginia. Some council members say the District needs the reductions to attract new residents.
Mr. Mendelson says some council members are proposing to increase taxes on businesses to further fund the income-tax cuts.
Mr. Williams says the city cannot afford the cuts and sides with the six council members.
"Their issues on tax parity and funding for [D.C. police] and Fire EMS all reflect the mayor's position," said Tony Bullock, spokesman for Mr. Williams.
Mr. Bullock said the Judiciary Committee's proposals to reduce new hires and overtime for the police, fire and emergency medical services are serious concerns of the mayor.
"It is hypocritical to speak out on street crime and call for more cops on the street and then call for cutbacks on new hires and overtime," Mr. Bullock said.
D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey and embattled Fire Chief Ronnie Few have made it clear to Judiciary Committee Chairman Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat, that they need every dollar they have requested in the 2003 budget.
Mr. Mendelson said a study conducted by McKinsey & Co., a New York-based international management consulting group, for the Federal City Council chaired by former Sen. Bob Dole, Kansas Republican predicted a $500 million budget shortfall by 2005 if the city continued its current spending rate.
"Our initiative is not a desire to spend more, but to be fiscally responsible in our spending, and income-tax cuts right now are not fiscally responsible," Mr. Mendelson said.
The Fiscal Six said they were not against tax relief, and that plans to cut the franchise or business tax and to implement a 25 percent cap on property-tax increases should move forward.
"I heard a lot of clamor from people on the real estate taxes in Ward 1, and we did something about it," Mr. Graham said.
He said the franchise tax must be lowered, if not eliminated, to retain and attract businesses in the District.
"Programs like the Housing Production Trust Fund, and other policy programs enacted by the council are in danger of not being funded, because we don't have the money now," Mr. Fenty said.
"Cutting income taxes could kill those programs."
Mr. Brazil, attempting to deflect the notion of infighting among council members, said: "We are not fighting. We all have opinions, but I think we are on the right side, and we just need to convince the others that this is the way to go."

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