- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 5, 2009

CITIZEN JOURNALISM:

Higher sales tax. Higher gasoline tax. Higher tobacco tax. That’s what D.C. residents and consumers who shop in the nation’s capital can expect.

The increased taxes are included in the revised fiscal 2010 budget the D.C. Council approved Friday.

The increases were coupled with across-the-board spending cuts designed to close a $666 million shortfall over the course of three years.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, who pledged against tax increases in 2006, said the higher taxes aren’t as bad as they could have been.

Lawmakers called the higher taxes and budget cuts a shared sacrifice to ameliorate cuts in social services, education and other areas. They also said they hope the economy will improve so the tax increases will sunset in three years.

“I have with me here a jar from children from the Latin American Montessori Bilingual Public Charter School who have contributed to help the city through its fiscal challenges,” said Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray. “They presented it to me at a monthly youth hearing a couple of months ago. When the students heard of our budget gap, they took it upon themselves to take up a collection at school. If these children realize that everyone will have to give a little to get through this economic downturn, we as elected officials need to follow their example. Thus, taking this premise, the meeting with bond officials, and other factors into account, we have focused our gap-closing solutions on shared sacrifice, on belt-tightening and on spending the District’s dollars as wisely as possible.”

The council’s budget proposal calls for the sales tax to rise from 5.75 percent to 6 percent. It calls for the gas tax to rise from 20 cents a gallon to 23.5 cents.

The cigarette tax increase would make the District’s the highest in the region and the sixth-highest nationally. Lawmakers want an increase of 50 cents to $2.50. Maryland’s is $2, and Virginia’s is 50 cents.

The proposed budget also would:

• Use federal instead of local funds to hire new police officers.

• Freeze per-student funding spending.

• Cut the summer school program.

• Cut the summer jobs program to six weeks instead of eight.

• Increase funding for job-training programs.

The police union isn’t happy with the policy decision.

“I think it is going to be a catastrophe for the city,” said Kristopher Baumann, chairman of the union that represents D.C. police officers.

He predicted a 20 percent cut to the force “that will mean more crime, more violence and a diminution of property taxes and all other benefits low crime rates have brought.”

Mr. Gray summed up the legislature’s options this way: “We put all options for filling the budget gap on the table: cutting spending; reducing staff and their benefits; raising taxes, fees and other revenue enhancements; as well as using the fund balance. In the end, we have a jointly developed proposal that is a responsible, balanced approach to solving the District’s financial gap going forward and ensures we never go back to the days when the District did not control its own destiny.”

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