- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 7, 2003

Clarifying D.C. finances

The Dec. 31 editorial "D.C.'s newest tax-hike scheme" stated: "Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi's initial scramble to boost the new property tax had him artificially estimating that it would generate $10 million for the financially strapped District. [Council member Jack] Evans called his and his colleagues' bluff. That forced Mr. Gandhi toward a more realistic figure, closer to $6 million." Allow me to make two corrections.
First, one of the most important functions of the District's Office of the Chief Financial Officer is to estimate the District's revenues. This is a function we take very seriously, and we do not artificially over- or underestimate the revenues for any purpose. Also, contrary to the implications of your editorial, we do not change revenue estimates because we are asked to do so or because we are bullied. Plenty of evidence from public exchanges at past council hearings attests to that fact.
Second, I want to describe the process by which we arrived at the certified $5.8 million estimate. The proposed change in the tax rate arose as the mayor and council, moving quickly, sought options to close an estimated $323 million revenue shortfall for fiscal 2003. Early in the discussion, we used a preliminary number of $10 million that was based on the collections in fiscal 1999, when the District previously had a tax rate of 5 percent on vacant and abandoned properties (Class V at the time). We consistently noted that initial estimates would be refined as time allowed, as the consensus on proposals jelled and as proposals were modified. The reasonable adjustments to a preliminary projection had nothing to do with political pressure.
Throughout the intense discussion of options to close the potential revenue shortfall, we often were asked to give ballpark estimates based on the best information available at the moment. Each preliminary number came with the caveat that the estimates would be refined before certification. This process contributed enormously to the speed with which the District government developed a consensus budget that closed the budget gap of $323 million.
In sum, my foremost objective is to provide revenue estimates that meet the highest professional standards, given the data and other resources available estimates that are not produced by the political process. That is what we do.

Chief financial officer
District of Columbia

Democrat sing-along

It's laughable that the Democrats have started reciting their mantra so early Republicans favor the rich, Social Security is being depleted, no new tax cuts, more entitlements please ("Democrats decry stimulus plan," Page 1, Saturday). Democrats need to wake up to the fact Americans are not as dumb as liberal leaders make them out to be. The last election proved that many voters resent being treated like second-class citizens without a mind of their own.
With so many Democrats wanting to be president, it will be interesting to learn what comes out of their mouths. Will anyone in the pack break tradition by ignoring the usual Democratic song-and-dance aimed at minorities and union members? I doubt it.


Who to punish for export violations

Friday's editorial "Selling Beijing the rope" illustrated the seriousness of export-law violations and raised an important issue: the punishment of violators. Loral Space & Communications Ltd. agreed to pay the government a $20 million fine a year ago for having transferred missile-related technologies to communist China. That punishment did not deter Hughes Space and Communications from committing another 123 violations of export laws relating to the transfer of sensitive, military-related technology to the same country, according to the State Department It is alarming that so many corporate executives could not see beyond their noses. They seem interested only in the short-term benefits to their companies and the resulting high compensations for their pockets at the expense of their country.
China is a major competitor of the United States, but as it becomes stronger economically and militarily, it will become a dangerous adversary. Thus, in order to cease export violations that strengthen China, the United States must have laws that severely punish corporate executives who betray the interests of this country.
However, fining a company for export-law violations is unfair to the stockholders and employees of that company. It affects the income statement, the balance sheet and the profit of the company but has no effect on the executives who decided to violate the laws. Effective punishment must penalize the executives personally.


Columnist's suspension reveals double standard

There is something very troubling about the Tallahassee Democrat's decision to suspend columnist Bill Cotterell for one week without pay because he "hurt" Muslims with his private e-mail comments ("Journalist suspended for hurting Muslims," Nation, Saturday, online edition).
Since the new revelations that certain Catholic priests were pedophiles, the media in general and numerous columnists have raked the Catholic Church over the coals, and they have made what many might consider very disparaging remarks. The scandal has provided a windfall for comedians like David Letterman and Jay Leno. So why haven't we heard demands from the Vatican or even the National Council of Bishops that these individuals and reporters be made to suffer the same treatment as Mr. Cotterell?
The answer is simple: We increasingly are finding out that our institutions are under attack by a religion that makes no secret that its rules for living are at odds with Western culture and tradition.
We shouldn't be surprised, then, if we later learn that what the Council on American Islamic Relations hopes will be a "more constructive dialogue with the newspaper's editorial board" will prove to be further restraints on that newspaper's First Amendment rights.

Lombard, Ill.

The George W. who wasn't vaccinated

Contrary to the assertion in "Smallpox vaccine a continuing question" (Nation, yesterday), George Washington did not get vaccinated in 1776, because Edward Jenner had not yet introduced vaccination to the world. In use at the time was the far more dangerous procedure called inoculation, in which the patient was injected with the actual smallpox virus, generally producing a less serious form of illness than the naturally occurring disease. Yet Washington was not inoculated, either. He had survived a natural case of smallpox a quarter of a century earlier and so was immune for life. For the tale of how a raging epidemic of smallpox among his troops was as big a concern for Washington as were the British, see Elizabeth Fenn's book, "Pox Americana."

Columbia, Md.

Poetic license

Suzanne Fields' reference to poet William Blake's "The Tiger" in her column "It's the culture, stupid" (Op-Ed, yesterday) has one minor flaw. Over the years, editors and publishers have modernized what they consider to be archaic spellings of English words. Hence, Blake's "The Tyger" has become "The Tiger." But perhaps Blake's original spelling was intentional and should have been preserved. After all, the words "Tyger, Tyger" visually rhyme with the end of the first stanza "frame thy fearful symmetry" much better than "Tiger, Tiger." In any case, originals survive, and Blake named his poem "The Tyger."

Lewes, Del.

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