- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 11, 2004

Mayor Tony Williams is putting the finishing touches on his fiscal 2005 budget. Where his policy priorities settle must not be left to happenstance, since taxpayers and business leaders have spoken and spoken clearly — and the political realities speak clearer still.

He and other leaders of the nation’s capital no longer have to go begging on Wall Street. Where they had to go begging because the city was essentially broke, city officials now can negotiate because the District’s fiscal house is in order. This spring, for instance, the possibility that the city will receive an A+ bond rating is good — and a far cry from places such as Baltimore, Pittsburgh and, even, the state of California. The thanks are due in no small measure to D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi, who stood firm as spending practically spun out of control on schools and extremely liberal social services policies.

The question now is: What will drive the mayor’s — and consequently the council’s — budget decisions in the coming weeks. Some of the noises currently distracting policy-makers — such as the financial and legal wrangling of the lead-in-the-water scare and costly ramifications of social dilemmas like domestic partnership and same-sex “marriage” — are just that: distractions.

If the mayor and the council want to sustain the fiscal integrity that was earned the hard way then they must consider their options, of which there are only four. They can: 1) raise taxes and fees; 2) hope that Congress re-institutes a substantial federal payment in lieu of taxes; 3) increase borrowing; or 4) curb spending.

Raising taxes on income or real estate, or on fees for such city services as motor vehicle and water services, building and licensing permits, would be bad public policy, angering taxpayers and businesses. And this Congress, during this presidential election year, is not going to entertain discussions on a federal payment — especially when conservatives and liberals alike are worried about the federal debt. So that takes care of Nos. 1 and 2. As for No. 3, increase borrowing, that would not be wise either. City leaders are trying to impress Wall Street, not be run back to Washington on the first train.

That leaves No. 4, curb spending, as the only viable option. Indeed, schools and social service entitlements (including Medicaid), devour two-thirds of the D.C. budget. Citywide, for example, one in four D.C. residents receives an entitlement in one program or another, while east of the Anacostia River that ratio is one in two. Good public policy dictates that all such residents be served, with one hand, while the other hand ensures that the money for such programs be spent wisely and efficiently. Unfortunately, what happens in the District (and most urban areas) is that policy-makers let their hearts instead of their heads make the decisions.

For example, while many policy-makers are sympathetic to the living arrangements that homosexuals choose for themselves, those same policy-makers have yet to grasp the budget implications of domestic-partnership, civil-union or same-sex “marriage” laws. Similarly, policy-makers consider going to school to be a barber or a hairdresser an effective way to get people off welfare. Well, maybe — if the demand meets the supply.

It has become clear in the last two years that lawmakers are not reviewing such policies. Instead, they alternate between slinging criticism at the mayor (if it’s their election cycle) and slinging mud (if it’s a mayoral election cycle). (And a few mudslingers do it regularly, just for the fun of it.)

The threat of a mayoral recall means Tony Williams will be ducking and dodging until the Oct. 1 start of the next fiscal year, if he doesn’t play his council cards right and give taxpayers and business leaders what they want: better public schools. They have been saying the same thing over and over and over again — at town hall meetings held by lawmakers, public hearings held by school board members and even at summits held by the mayor himself. And when they say they want better schools for their children, they are not talking about the 16-, 18- and 20-year-old thugs or single mothers who refuse to attend school with any regularity. They are talking about the 55 percent of children who actually pay attention in class and want to make something of themselves.

It is those children, their families, their schools and their communities that deserve priority in the mayor’s — and consequently the council’s — fiscal 2005 budget.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide