- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 29, 2005

Kathy Patterson, the Democrat who has represented upper Northwest (Cleveland Park, Tenleytown, Naval Observatory, etc.) on the D.C. Council since 1995, wants to be chief lawmaker. One would think that, to rise to such an occasion, a candidate for such a critical citywide post would propose legislation that appeals to business leaders and aids the working poor. Mrs. Patterson disappoints.

The Ward 3 lawmaker was expected to offer compromise legislation that would mandate school authorities develop the capacity to modernize the city’s aging school inventory and provide a reasonable alternative to the insufferable bill that would have used proceeds from the D.C. Lottery to finance a modernization plan. Instead, Mrs. Patterson has written legislation that seriously damages her credibility as a studious lawmaker.

The Patterson legislation might as well be titled the Tax and Spend Act. It would create a Public School Capital Improvement Fund, increase the hotel tax, increase the parking tax, increase the cigarette tax, renege on income-tax cuts promised in the 1999 tax-parity law and mandate that school authorities develop yet another master-facilities plan. It also would establish yet another panel of “experts” to oversee yet another schools fix-it plan.

While reasonable arguments can easily be made for and against increasing the tax on cigarettes, Mrs. Patterson’s council colleagues are wise in their reluctance to sign off on her legislation. Taxpayers fought hard for those income-tax cuts. In fact, it was the mayor, Mrs. Patterson should recall, who grudgingly went along with the council’s 1999 tax-cutting bill. (It was Tony Williams’ first skirmish with the council after becoming mayor.) Linda Cropp, Jack Evans, Carol Schwartz, David Catania and other veterans should be telling Mrs. Patterson hands off.

As for the parking and hotel taxes the other lawmakers and the mayor (lame duck though he may be)need to heed the warning of the Hotel Association of Washington: “We applaud Council member Patterson’s efforts to find a suitable source of revenue to modernize our school buildings. However… [i]f the Council decides to increase the hotel sales tax to 15.5 percent, the District will be the most expensive and most highly taxed hotel industry in our competitive set.”

Indeed, the District this year only moved from eighth to fourth in the tourism industry. So not only would our hotel, “new” convention center and tourism industries lose considerable ground on restoring post-September 11 businesses, but our restaurants, museums and retailers would lose out, too.

Mrs. Patterson is privately touted as the lawmaker who completes her “homework” assignments. This time she comes up negligible — but the intent to modernize schools is a salvageable idea.

What Mrs. Patterson and the others in City Hall must recognize are two facts: 1) D.C. Public Schools has failed to spend its facilities budget wisely and effectively. The proof can be found in schools new and old in any quadrant of the city — including the school where Mrs. Patterson recently held a public hearing; 2) School authorities have failed to spend facilities money wisely and effectively because they do not have the in-house capacity (or the will) to manage and oversee what surely will become a $3 billion enterprise.

What must occur then is obvious. School officials needed neither another plan nor another committee of experts to modernize the city’s schools. What they must do is: close and consolidate schools (a huge moneymaker in itself); prove to parents and City Hall that they can effectively implement modernization plans already in place; and, most important of all, streamline their bureaucracy so that it emphasizes improving the academic lot of their student body and repairing and maintaining schoolhouses. The capacity for the latter is not in place, and, as for the academics, the well-publicized test scores and jobless rate speak volumes for the former.

We appreciate Mrs. Patterson’s earnest interest to rebuild the school inventory. But while the lawmaker searches for ways to hand over money, parents and other taxpayers see a school system whose bureaucrats can pat themselves on the back for starting the school year on time but not much else. We expected better from a veteran lawmaker who has her sights on a leadership seat.

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