- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 19, 2002

City officials have a tin cup in one hand and a will-bloviate-for-food placard in the other hand, their customary response to a cash shortfall, this one projected to be $323 million.

Here we go again, back to the bankrupt future of the early '90s.

As usual, D.C. officials are out of ideas and money, which is a bad combination, to be sure.

The mayor, meanwhile, is either out to lunch or out of town, the distinction redundant to those who feast on political partisanship. He is said to be in touch daily with his minions, monitoring the goings-on by telephone. Win a stirring primary. Hit the road. Call collect. That is the winning ticket.

Phone home, Anthony A. Williams. Fiscal 2003 begins Oct. 1. This is not a good time to be pleading poverty on Capitol Hill, where congressional lawmakers already have a full agenda. There is the matter of Saddam Hussein, plus the war on terror, a shaky stock market and Martha Stewart.

Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District's Democratic delegate to Congress, does not have a vote, just a voice that reaches various levels of shrill.

This is the city, a glorified ward of the federal government. These are your tax dollars at work, if work is the right word in a city that suffers from a terminal case of red ink.

The city has a $5.3 billion budget and possibly a "structural imbalance," which is an interesting way of saying the city is in the habit of spending more money than it generates.

Welcome to Washington, the birthplace of the "structural imbalance." You are urged to hide your piggy banks and billfolds.

The "structural imbalance" card is employed to inspire compassion among members of Congress.

So that is how it works. The bureaucrats call their budgetary woes a "structural imbalance." They call yours fiscal irresponsibility. You could try the "structural imbalance" thing the next time the city sends one of its money-seeking love letters to your household. In the amount-paid box, insert "structural imbalance" instead of a dollar figure and see what happens. Here you thought the frazzled souls being held captive by the Department of Motor Vehicles were victims of institutional inertia. Nope. It is the "structural imbalance" of the place. Trash buildup in the alleyways? "Structural imbalance." Dudley Moore's role in the Democratic mayoral primary? More "structural imbalance."

It is a good thing the city lost its bid to be host of the 2012 Olympic Games. You think it has a "structural imbalance" problem now. You wouldn't want to imagine its "structural imbalance" if the Summer Games were coming here in 2012. There would have been an extremely bad case of "structural imbalance square" going around with that event, along with news reports detailing the secret bank accounts of IOC voters and congressional hearings.

All the usual solutions are being trotted out to treat the shortfall: raise taxes, slash the budgets of D.C. schools and human services, pare the city work force and cross your fingers and hope not to go deaf from the outcry.

What's a tax-and-spend city to do? The city's income-tax rates are already the highest in the nation. Its sales-tax rates are already the highest in the area. Its increase in property taxes last year caused consternation among homeowners. Virginia and Maryland, as always, are just next door, beckoning those who have lost their patience with the city.

How about a personal-property tax on television sets? Has anyone thought of that yet?

There also is the old standby: the sin tax. Slap another dollar of tax on all alcohol and tobacco products and call it another attempt to save lives.

Commuter tax, anyone? Or is that one still impossible to float? This is just great. The city is out of money and at least one D.C. Council member is passing around a weather report.

Adrian Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, claims it is "raining," the signal to borrow $110 million from a "rainy-day fund."

You want to discuss inclement weather? Wait until the first five-flake blizzard hits the city this winter. The city will be down to one snowplow operator, a couple of beat-up shovels and a distant desire to have an early spring thaw.

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