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May 2, 1999

You Could Already Have Won a Tax Cut

Dear Taxpayers:

So the city has a budget surplus. Nine members of the City Council say they want to give us a tax cut, and so far the only audible reaction has been, “No thanks.” Tony Williams and Natwar Gandhi say the surplus will probably disappear tomorrow. All the city service contractors say that the money should be spent on expanding their programs. Art Spitzer, below, suggests paying off some of the city's debt, instead; and Frank Pruss wants to build up a rainy day fund and spend more on schools. The Post and most of the local commentators are firmly opposed to lowering DC tax rates to anywhere near the levels of the Maryland or Virginia suburbs. And old-line Democratic party politics, which still holds sway here, if few other places, teaches that tax hikes are good and tax cuts are bad. So does anybody want to pay less taxes? Or are we paying too little now?

Gary Imhoff


DC Voting Rights — Defining Statehood Down
Tom Matthes,

The Constitution names the president “Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy,” but doesn't define the term, and the Air Force didn't exist when the document was drafted. Does that mean Trent Lott can take “Commander in Chief” to mean the president merely has oversight of the military, don an Air Force general's uniform and take command of the Kosovo bombing campaign? That would mean chaos; better to stick with the intent of the founders. And yet George LaRoche and Paul Strauss claim in their postings that “definitions are part of the problem” (LaRoche) regarding Congress, the States and the District of Columbia. The Constitution does not seem to define “States” and “District” (it doesn't define “Congress” or “president” either). LaRoche says the words “States” and “District” are “abstract definitions.” Therefore, says LaRoche, litigation can play a role in ending congressional control of DC, although he acknowledges the ultimate solution is political. Strauss says “Mr. Matthes can't seem to understand that States can be States without being called States (like our ‘Commonwealth’ neighbor across the river).” He apparently thinks that, because the State of Virginia calls itself a “Commonwealth,” the courts can go ahead and call DC a State too. Perhaps they can also admit into the Union the Department of State, the Empire State Building and the makers of the movie “Altered States.”

Let's go to the text. The Constitution has an operational definition of “State.” The original 13 States, including the Commonwealth of Virginia, are listed in Article I., Section 2, paragraph 3. Congress admitted the other 37 into the Union under the provisions of Article IV, Section 3. There's nothing “abstract” about it. DC is a “District” because under Article I, Section 8, land ceded by Maryland to Congress for the national capital is to be a “District.” Congress is empowered to “exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever” over it. That language prevents DC from becoming a State, or part of a State, since a State has a legislature with powers Congress cannot touch (see Amendment 10). If Congress surrenders its legislative authority, the district has no legal existence under the Constitution (some of you attorneys out there might investigate whether a unilateral dissolution of DC by Congress would be grounds to sue Maryland for immediate retrocession). Of course, the Supreme Court might ignore the text if Congress tries to make DC a State, but the Court could change its mind later. If DC citizens prefer statehood, or other alternatives to retrocession, it's better to start campaigning for a constitutional amendment. Litigation may help stir the political pot, as LaRoche says, but it won't get the job done and frustration over congressional city management and lack of votes for district residents will continue indefinitely. By the way, nothing in these postings is meant to suggest that DC citizens are not entitled to “due process” and “equal protection of the laws” in court. What is needed is a constitutional remedy to the lack of congressional votes and it won't be found in a courthouse.


Smaller than the Average State
Kathy Carroll,

Ok, ok, so it's getting that bad is it? I haven't written in months since I left employment in Georgetown, but I need some clarification. Mr. Seftor wrote that, “Stewart Reuter makes the really interesting assertion that the District is too small to be a state and DC citizens, therefore, should have no right to vote.” That's not the way I saw it. I believe that Mr. Seftor made the assertion that DC's population is smaller than most states. Now I could be wrong since I didn't keep the offending graph, but I think we're getting a little hostile here.... Please feel free to correct me, of course.


Taxes and Facts
Frank Pruss,

While I oppose any tax cut until we have a sound “rainy day fund” and schools that are in good working order (at the least), I'll add fuel to the fire with this pointer:  

We are in kind of a sorry “state,” and this does need to be addressed after we have recovered from decades of mismanagement.


How About Cutting the Debt Instead?
Art Spitzer,

Councilmembers Evans, Catania, et al. are pushing a large tax cut. I wonder if their recent DC property tax bill had the same legend at the bottom that mine did: “75.0 percent of your tax year 1999 real property tax is used to pay the general obligation bonds debt service requirement.”

THREE QUARTERS of your real estate taxes goes to pay interest to bondholders! Just think of all the money that would be available to repair the schools, kill the rats, build a new jail, install telephones at DPW, plant trees, or whatever your priorities may be, if that debt were paid off. Why are we even thinking of a big tax cut while holding such a gross amount of debt? Mr. Evans says the tax cut would be made “with the understanding that if things turn south, they will stop it.” (Quotation from Washington Post.) Yeah, right. Now, when people are feeling flush and spending 105% of their income, we cut taxes so they can spend even more. Then, when the economy is in recession and people are losing jobs and skimping on food to pay the rent, we're gonna increase their taxes. What was that I'd heard about our new, “fiscally responsible” Council? Just another false rumor, I guess.


Star Wars Part I and the Uptown Theater
Andrew Aurbach,

As one of those that saw the original Star Wars on the first day at the Uptown, I am eagerly awaiting the release of the upcoming prequel. However, I am now a resident of the Uptown Theater neighborhood, so the obvious parking and noise concerns subdue my enthusiasm. I came across the following web site ( )...then click on to Washington, D.C, where there is a chat about lines, camping out and the like. There seems to be much among the High School/College set about making a multiweek party along Connecticut Avenue commonplace. I'm all for it, to a point.

Does anyone have any information about restrictions by the Uptown on viewing hours, and help with parking enforcement? I seem to recall that after Independence Day, there was a dialogue between Uptown management and the neighbors regarding all night showings. Has there been any proactive dialogue given the pending hoards?


From the Counting Down to Star Wars Web Site
Andrew Aurbach,

6. When does the line start?
The Uptown Line will start in the evening on Sunday May 16, 3 days before the opening of Episode I. There are several reasons why we are not doing a month long, or even 2 week long line. First, most of us can't because of school and work. And secondly, Connecticut Avenue near the Uptown has many shops and restaurants that are definitely not receptive to the idea of having their entrances blocked for any extended period of time. Also, there is a residential area (Cleveland Park) just behind the theater, and the homeowners there do not appreciate having 1000 people camping out on their front lawns. To preserve the peace between fans and residents, we've decided to have a short campout. (Remember that there are two more movies in the Prequel Trilogy. We want to get a chance to do this again twice, so we have to be careful this time!)


Fixing the Dept. of Motor Vehicles
Ed T. Barron,

One of the writers to themail mentioned their experience at a Motor Vehicle office where you are assigned a number, then are called when your number comes up. That system has been in effect for the last twelve years in New York and it works fine. Instead of being shuttled from Tinkers to Evans to Chance and from line to line to take care of business, one person, armed with a decent computer and some good training, takes care of all your paperwork and processing. You never wait on line. This centralized approach is being used universally by organizations who provide “Customer Service.” The DMV does not have to reinvent the wheel. They need only to benchmark an existing system that works well and copy it. It would surely shorten processing times and eliminate the frustration of being told “you are on the wrong line.”


Really, Absolutely the Last Word on The Common Denominator
Ann Loikow, Cleveland Park,

A couple of weeks ago, a number of people commented on local news outlets. I want to put in a plug for both WTOP and The Common Denominator. WTOP is often the only radio or TV station that covers a lot of local events or issues, even though, given its format, the coverage is often in small bites. The Common Denominator is the about the only newspaper trying to cover the local scene across the entire city. Given the almost total suburban focus of the Post, this is welcome indeed. We all need to know more about what is going on all across the city (and who is doing it) if we are to unite and change our colonial status.


Great Response
Ed T. Barron,

In what may be a symptom of improved attitude and performance by one of the D.C. organizations let me relate a recent experience. The street lamp in front of my house on Massachusetts Avenue acted erratically during the night over the past weekend. At noon on Monday I called the Street Light branch of the D.C. Public Works. Their listed number has been changed but they automatically route you to the new number. A pleasant person answered on the first ring and told me the symptoms indicated a failing bulb. I gave them the location of the pole. On Tuesday at about 11 AM they replaced the bulb. Nice response.


Construction on DC Streets
L. Burford,

Can anyone tell me about the citywide “tunnel like” strips that construction teams are digging in the streets throughout DC. What is there purpose? Are they upgrading the water system?


Mr. Blessing’s Last Article on Charter Schools
Ed Kane,

In his April 28th contribution on charter schools in the area, Mr. Blessing cited a newly approved charter school for “... it's (sic) misspellings and ... grammatical errors ...” I would suggest that this particular pot examine his own misspellings/grammar before castigating the kettle for its color.

[I usually try to clean up everyone's spelling and grammar, so that everyone appears at his or her best, but sometimes I miss one. However, before we cast the first stone at the pot or the kettle (isn't that a nice mixing of metaphors?), think about all the errors in the E-mails we receive and write ourselves. Unfortunately, the speed of writing and sending E-mail has led to less care being taken, and less attention being paid to checking and correcting our errors. — Gary Imhoff]


T’ai Chi in Town
Lorraine Swerdloff,

Can anyone recommend a good beginners t'ai chi class in Northwest? Thanks.


Where to Donate Old Computers?
Mary Bloodworth,

My company has a number of old computers that we would like to donate to anyone interested (although schools and nonprofit will be given first consideration). The recipient will be responsible for picking up the PCs and taking them away. These are not necessarily full systems; there are more computers than monitors or keyboards. They are 486's, so we make no guarantee on Y2K compliance. I've tried to contact TechCorps DC and DC public schools, but no one has gotten back to me. Any suggestions? Thanks for your help.

[I searched the archives of themail (see the directions for how to search the archives at the end of each issue), and found the following suggestions from the past few months. I don't know if they're all still current, and any additional ideas are welcome. (1) Reginald S. Lourie Center for Infants and Young Children, a nonprofit clinic for babies with developmental problems, call Lynne List at 301-984-4444. (2) Phil Shapiro, 984-4444 has a list of organizations that need and accept computer donations. (3) Byte Back, in Mt. Pleasant, offers computer classes and can probably use hardware as well, contact Glenn Stein, . (4) Bob Levey at the Washington Post keeps a list of things that people want to give away, and provides the list to organizations looking for donations. — Gary Imhoff]


Ask the Chief
Jim Farley, Vice President, News & Programming, WTOP Radio,

Got a question you'd like to ask Police Chief Charles Ramsey? He'll be taking calls for an hour on WTOP Radio (1500 AM/107.7 FM, signals vary depending on where you live), Thursday morning May 6th from 10 am to 11 am. You can e-mail questions in advance by going to (there is an “Ask the Chief” icon) or on Thursday morning you may call to ask your question live: (202) 895-5065. Please do not call before 10 am. Some of our best calls come from themail participants!



Dialogue on Racial Unity
Juliet Bruce,

Mining the Riches of Our Community: A Dialogue on Racial Unity, June 1, 8, 15, and 22, 1999, 6-8 p.m., Latin American Youth Center, 1419 Columbia Road, NW. Everyone is welcome. You are cordially invited to participate in this community based discussion series supported by Multicultural Community Service, a nonprofit organization that facilitates public dialogue on community issues. MCS serves the neighborhoods of Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights, Mt. Pleasant, and Shaw. Everyone who lives or works in these areas is strongly encouraged to participate. For more information, or to register for this series, please call (202) 518-6737, ext. 11.



Furnished Short-Term Summer Rental
Ed Kane,

Available in Chevy Chase, DC, from June 1st until September 15th. Rent: $2,500 monthly. Four bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths, center hall colonial with large rooms, screened porch, big garden, garage. Near Metro, buses, and shopping. Central air conditioning. Call Ed Prentice, at (202) 364-1539.


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