- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 1, 2004

O where, o where has our real mayor gone? O where, o where can he be? Tony Williams, who used to ruffle feathers in City Hall and lock down the city’s coffers as if they were his personal life savings, has disappeared. Just like that. In two years’ time, Tony the Tiger went poof. He vanished. In his sted is a mayoral look-alike who wears cool bow ties — just like Tony of old — but who, bouncing from one tax-and-spend policy to another, resemblesmore Tigger than tiger.

OnMonday, thelook-alike unveileda spending proposal for the next fiscalyearthat makes neither the real mayor nor his budget policieslook good. Saying he needsmore money to take care of the District’s indigent population, Mr. Williams proposed a whopping 9 percent increase in spending. Most of the new money will come from raising taxes, fees and fines, while most of the new spending will go toward entitlements, education and public safety.

That is what the mayor said with a straight face on Monday. I see an entirely different sob story, though. By trying to help the needy, the mayor actually will be hurting them.

The mayor’s devilish attempts to raise the costs on anything and everything that have to do with driving and/or owning a motor vehicle are a perfect example.

Indulge me, please, while I paint the picture. In the 1980s, then-Mayor Marion Barry created what is called a Residential Parking Permit (RPP). The RPP only applies to neighborhood streets, and it limits to two hours the length of time one car can park in the same spot on the same street between morning and evening rush hours — even if that car is parked in front of the owner’s home. Mr. Barry created the parking permit to get back at commuters from Maryland and Virginia, who, instead of parking at meters or in commercial garages, were parking all day in residential neighborhoods. The city didn’t make any money off of them until the RPP — also known as the parking tax.

Understand, too, that the Barry administration did not arbitrarily pick any old neighborhood streets for the parking tax. Residents had to petition the city to participate in the parking program — which many readily did because they wanted (and still want) to be able to park in front of, or at least near, their homes. Except, imagine what has happened. Commuters know to skirt the law by moving their cars every two hours, while residents who don’t beat the parking enforcers to the curb get slapped with pink tickets. (I speak from experience, having been slapped on several occasions.) So, instead of mining commuters’ pockets, city officials have become addicted to the money generated by residents.

Now, there are two other sides to this mischievous policy. Neither mayors, who are chauffeured around the city, nor D.C. Council members have to pay for parking taxes or parking infractions — thanks to a mayoral wannabe named Carol Schwartz. What she did is as shameful as what Mr. Barryhaswrought.Mrs. Schwartz proposed (and got passed) legislation that exempts the city’s lawmakers from most parking infractions. Short of parking their expensive cars in front of the White House, they can do no wrong when it comes to parking illegally. (And Mrs. Schwartz calls herself a Republican. Humph.)

The other tale regards the increasing costs of living for the poor and the working poor. Tigger, who, just a few years ago, jumped on the opportunity to raise fees and fines related to driving in the District, has proposed more of the same in his new budget. For example, the Residential Parking Permit will double to $30, and it will cost more to register a vehicle, have that vehicle inspected and to get a license to drive that vehicle. While Big Brother no longer snoops under the bedsheets of welfare recipients, the mayor and Mrs. Schwartz do indeed know that poor folks buy cars, too. Can the working poor really afford those and other higher fees and taxes?

Egads. If Tigger sat still long enough perhaps — just perhaps — he’d get a better handle on the complexity of these issues.

Tony the Tiger was a fiscal conservative who counted and recounted taxpayer dollars before he even thought about spending them. I suspect he is somewhere inside City Hall. I just know I want my mayor back.

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