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May 9, 1999

To Cut or Not to Cut

Dear Financial Managers:

Not that citizens have any say in what's going to happen, but we can still comment on it. Who do you trust? Are the Councilmembers basing the tax cut on reliable information and economic theories? Are the Chief Financial Officer's figures any more believable than the Councilmembers'? The Mayor made a handshake deal with the Council on the tax cut plan, then reneged and denounced the plan as grotesque. Can his political word be trusted? Is Alice Rivlin really dictating the Mayor's and Control Board's positions unilaterally, or can she be trusted when she says she had no hand in scuttling the agreement? What do you know, and what do you think? What does this controversy say about a new and improved Mayor, City Council, and Control Board?

Gary Imhoff


Tax Cut Now! I'll Keep My Share
Victor Chudowsky,

Reading about DC's tax cut controversy, I don't know whether to laugh or cry. It is as if the 1980s and 1990s never happened, that we still believe a group of the best and brightest administrators armed with well funded programs can lift DC out of the bureaucratic sewer it is still sitting in. All of you who oppose tax cuts should go to a few seminars at the Democratic Leadership Council and learn about trends in governing over the past twenty years. But no, not in DC, where the biggest industry is government. Keep my share! I'm guilty about my opera tickets! Rich people might get more from tax cuts! Contrary to common sense, it seems patriotic to continue to feed the ravenous maw of DC government, giving more money to the very people who contributed to the sad state of affairs, particularly in the police department and schools. What a disappointment Tony Williams is; the bean counter characterization is correct. Having never worked outside of government, his universe continues to be defined by budgets, management, and other concerns more fitting a professor of public administration rather than a leader of a place that people, REAL PEOPLE, have moved away from in droves.

We can afford tax cuts, and I'll show you how. We can start by attacking numerous fairly useless government entities created for the sake of patronage, or which are now an anachronism. NARPAC always has good ideas on how to save money, but here are mine. Can anyone on this list give me two, or even one reason why we need the following: 1) ANCs: Got a problem? Like people in every other US city, write or call your councilperson. That is what they are there for. As the City Paper recently reported, most ANCs are ineffectual, corrupt, and largely a waste of time. 2) Mayor's Golden Washingtonian Club — huh? 3) DC Sports Commission, Armory Board, RFK ticket office — privatize. 4) Commission on Arts & Humanities — yeah I go to their concerts on July 4th and other times, but this can be taken over by a nonprofit. 5) Boxing and Wrestling Commission — quick, when was the last time you saw a boxing match that did not take place in an Adams Morgan alley? 6) Cooperative Extension Service — 4H Program? Master Gardeners? Urban Horticulture? “Ma'am, my pit bull gets sick from eating the azaleas and I don't know what to do! Please send help!" 7) DC Credit Union — I am hoping that this is self-sufficient and can be spun off, like most other government or private credit unions. 8) UDC Law School — Ask Dr. Timmons how many graduates pass the bar exam. Motto: “DC — Starved for Lawyers!” 9) Mayor's Office Plethora of Identity Politics and Ethnic Patronage — Office on Aging, Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs, Chinatown Information and Referral Center, Advisor for Cultural Affairs, Office of Latino Affairs, Religious Affairs, Commission on Women. 10) Optometry Board, Barber Board,  Pharmacy Board, Physical Therapy Board, Plumbing Board, Podiatry Board. Most of these professions have associations which can regulate themselves, except plumbers. 11) Office of Cable TV — Because I still don't get channel 4!


The Tax X-Files
Greg Rhett,

Let me see if I have this straight: The citizens of DC are willing to fight to PREVENT our taxes from being CUT. We willingly elect politicians on the premise of: “Read my lips, I will not CUT your taxes.” Although we pay the fourth highest personal income tax rate in the entire US, DC taxpayers would much rather see INCREASED tax expenditures for: (1) a police department that still has not figured out how to get no more than a third of it's force out to patrol our neighborhoods, even after hiring and promoting millions of dollars worth of “new” managers; (2) a public school system, costing more than half billion dollars, ANNUALLY, that has rarely demonstrated the ability to spend dollars effectively and efficiently; (3) a multimillion dollar social services system that has been inundated with multiple court orders, lawsuits, injunctions, and “receivers”; (4) and a DPW that “contracts out” millions of tax dollars to non-DC-based vendors/consultants who produce only marginal results, at best. Before putting all this together, my wife and I were really excited about the prospect of having a few more dollars to purchase goods and services for our family. Silly, misguided us! After reading anti-tax cut arguments, we now understand that the existing conditions in our east of the river neighborhood and schools, undoubtedly, demonstrate that our government is much better qualified than us, at deciding how those few extra dollars should be spent. “Come in here, Sculley, you've gotta see this!”


Declaring War With the City Council
Ed T. Barron,

Does the mayor think that by embarrassing the City Council he will help to “move the city forward”? If we are ever to regain self government in this city we need a unified team with the mayor and city council working together. By characterizing the Council's well intended proposal to reduce taxes “grotesque,” the mayor has clearly taken a very offensive position and declared war with the Council. This is probably one of the best City Councils we've had in years. There are some very smart and hard working people on that council. It's too bad the mayor has chosen, once again, to be a “lone wolf” in his quest to save the District. How much more could be done if the mayor would openly and sincerely negotiate a reasonable tax cut package for the District. How much more could be done if the Mayor would work with the Council to establish a real plan and timetable for reducing the inflated costs of running the District Government. Perhaps a tax cut package with a major reduction in the regressive sales tax could be developed which would produce major benefits to the lowest income residents and to the businesses in the District. That would require some negotiation on the part of the mayor. Consideration and compromise are not the mayor's long suits.


Notes from a DC Tax Refugee
John Whiteside,

The discussion on taxes is interesting. Ignoring for a moment whether the time is right for a tax cut, think about this question: why does the DC government need a 9.5% marginal tax rate, kicking in at the absurdly low income level of $20,000, to function? I ask this as someone who spent many years in Massachusetts, aka Taxachusetts, where for the “high” tax rate of 5% we were lavished with government services. Look at what DC spends and what DC does and clearly, things are very wrong.

Also, a correction: I loathe Jim Gilmore and I think my fellow Virginians are a bunch of whiners with respect to the car tax — even with it, we enjoy low taxes — but it's not accurate to say none of us have seen the famed car tax relief. In fact every vehicle-owning Virginian gets back 12.5% of the their 1998 personal property tax. My check arrived about three weeks after I paid up. For 1999, it's deducted before payment.


Tax Cuts
Robert Revere, Cardozo-Shaw,

Without knowing your personal spending habits and your charitable inclination, I think it is impossible to say whether you spend your money more wisely and efficiently than the DC government. But I agree with Ann Drissel's point, that tax revenues should be used to improve city's infrastructure and quality of life. As I understand it, a tax cut would theoretically draw people back into the city and increase the tax base. This sounds like bad business and bad government — it is borrowing against future (imagined) earnings to put your goods on sale. DC will increase its tax base by improving the school system, protecting its green spaces, making the streets safer, and otherwise encouraging the development of real neighborhoods.

I believe that government is supposed to provide for the “common good,” which means to me that it will provide for those aspects of life that are forgotten about through an economy of greed. Incidentally, the “common good” was Catania's campaign slogan, and his vision seems to have become awfully short-sighted!


Getting Personal and Chatty on Taxes
Mark David Richards, Dupont East,

My 700 s/ft condo was just reassessed by our more efficient government, and my property taxes will increase by over 20% over the next three years. Same for all my neighbors. So, cut taxes all you want. For me, they're going up, and the DC government is getting more of my paycheck. Did any assessments go down? What do these new assessments add up to? I work in a small opinion research business in Woodley Park. Our business is national and international, so we don't need to be in DC. Our hard earned money is constantly picked off by a wide variety of taxing entities, including the DC government. Not only are our DC taxes high, but thus far, we pay a private rat exterminator, a cleaning person to pick up trash from the alley behind our property (food for rats), a tree person to try to save the elm that is dying outside my window. Thank the gods I don't have children (and my taxes can help those who do) or a car (somebody's got to save the damn roads and air!). But I like living in the District, because it is urban space and multiethnic. I'd sooner leave the country than this city (I can move to Puerto Rico, enjoy beaches, pay no taxes, and still be unrepresented — what a deal).

But, surprise, I'm only one of many in these 120 villages. I have friends who can't afford health insurance and would have to go to DC General if sick. A homeless woman with physical disabilities sits on my corner in her wheelchair — she depends on the small check she gets from DC govt. and the kindness of strangers. The majority of our residents don't own their home and have to count every dollar just to get by. And, last but not least, our commuters from MD and VA need us to keep the federal government's roads up (yep, the feds took 3,606 acres from the original landowners for $0 for roads as part of their property) so they can have a smooth ride to earn a living so their governments can get taxes too. All this to say that an informed public policy decision should be based on all the data, solid data that has been analyzed from multiple perspectives, demographically. I'm not convinced our leaders have done this, because I'm hearing more sound bites than facts. (If I hear Evans say “The Mayor's comments are puzzling to me...” one more time, I'll...) This currently not-so-public information is scattered across many agencies, not in one place, accessible by internet. Budget discussions are cyclical, so why not do this for the next rounds? And our elected officials — we elected all of them, not just the Mayor — should start by agreeing on the facts and numbers. The bottom line is that most of us (520,000?) have to live with, trust or not, the judgment of 14 elected officials, an overlord, and a Congress with attention deficit. The current money discussion is a spectator sport, we are the bread and circus subjects who get to cheer for the side we don't want to get skewered in the end. The fact is, we all want efficient government that doesn't interfere in our life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. On that level, I suppose we're all getting skewered.


Where Is Our District’s Cash Management Going?
Frank Pruss,

The District has finally cashed the Income Tax Balance Due check I sent in on April 15. What's the deal? I thought that with a bean counter like Da Mare, we'd see better cash management than this! The fundamental rule is Collect ASAP, Pay ALAP!


Special Education in DC Schools
Peter Luger, Mt. Pleasant,

About a year or so ago, my office (Georgetown University Child Development Center, a division of Pediatrics at Georgetown Medical Center) competitively applied for a contract with DC Public Schools to provide special ed screening. This screening is a requirement of the school system but has not been done in ages. We were told that we had been selected to provide the services. A short time later, we were told that the contract had been given to another organization. After a lot of argument, the process was supposed to be re-opened. It never happened and there has not been assessment of Special Ed students since. There is absolutely no excuse for the condition of the Special Ed program in DC. Qualified groups were prepared to do the work. Money was available to pay for the services. No one bothered to make it happen.


Making Cities
Ed Kane,

Mr. Drudi's thought that the District of Columbia should subdivide into cities before seeking statehood is not so outlandish as it might appear. We might look at the example of the island of Martha's Vineyard, in Massachusetts, with a winter population of some 13,000 souls (summer population rises to about 100,000), which is divided into six (6) fiercely independent townships, each with its own police department, fire department, trash facility, etc.


DC Voting Rights, the Law and the Lawyers
Tom Matthes, Tom

A lawyer named Lincoln once drew the ire of an opponent in court by calling him a soldier. “I am not a soldier, but an officer,” he declared. Undaunted, Lincoln continued, “I beg your pardon. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, this officer, who is no soldier…” Mr. LaRoche, in his arguments on DC voting rights, believes this debater's arguments are the result of “ire” against attorneys, apparently because of a reference to “clever lawyers.” But, as with Mr. Lincoln, a denial that Mr. LaRoche is a “clever lawyer” seems unlikely to satisfy him that no malice is intended. So let's put it another way. Our republic needs clever lawyers (who would hire one that isn't?) like a Thanksgiving dinner party needs a carving knife. The knife, however, should be used to cut the turkey and not the guests. Likewise, lawyers should use their wits to uphold the Constitution and not undermine it with contentions about the abstract nature of the States and the District of Columbia.

There is also the story about Theodore Roosevelt, his cabinet and the Panama Canal. The president was irked by talk that the canal treaty, concluded after the US helped the Panamanians stage a coup to end Colombia's control of the isthmus, was not gained in full accord with international law. So he summoned his cabinet to hear his case. After he finished, one of the secretaries declared, “Mr. President, you have shown you were accused of seduction. You have proved you were guilty of rape.” This year, the US returns the canal to Panama. Mr. LaRoche and I agree that the ultimate solution to the issues of DC votes in Congress and an end to congressional city management is political, not judicial. We have what I trust is a friendly disagreement over whether DC can become a state without first amending the constitution. That argument began before these postings and won't be settled here. But remember that Mr. Lincoln, after issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, made sure of his work by persuading Congress to abolish slavery forever in the 13th Amendment. Shouldn't district residents follow his example and, if they reject retrocession, make sure of their goal of congressional votes with an amendment? Sounds like a no-brainer. Remember Dred Scot and Panama. Don't leave it to the courts and, above all, don't weaken the moral case for DC voting rights with legalese. “Right makes might,” said Mr. Lincoln.


Margaret Yom Pullman,

Albemarle Street has just been resurfaced. For a while it was great. Now they are digging it up again. Why? Is there no way to coordinate this kind of work and save money for the city?


Street Cut Repairs
Randy Wells,

What happened to the new DC law that the utilities that make street cuts are responsible for repairing the cut? (That is, not just a temporary patch, but a properly sealed permanent, smooth patch.)


Dry Clean Depot
Kathy Carol,

In December, all 10 local Fresh Fields held a coat drive for local shelters. Dry Clean Depot dry cleaned the mountains and mountains of coats we received for FREE before we donated them to the shelters. Sometimes it's just the little things that make a place special.


May Edition of NARPAC, Inc. Web Site: Productivity, and the DC Council
Len Sullivan.

The National Association to Restore Pride in America's Capital has revised its web site for May (See “What's New?” at ) with new headline summaries and links to three more relevant web sites. Topical updates include: the Mayor's near term performance scorecard; comparison of DC's proposed new budget to Montgomery County's; issues involving DCPS special ed and moving UDC to Anacostia; and NARPAC's suggestion for a major new defense complex east of the Anacostia. A new quantitative analysis looks at the relative "productivity" of various DC land uses, and of the various categories of people who live and visit DC. Coupling DC tax revenues produced by various groups and businesses to the expenditures they consume provides a key to the desired future development of the city — and its financial well being. Suggestions emerge concerning incentives to move; clustering of neighborhood planning; and developing revenues from federal and non-profit acreage.

NARPAC's, Inc.'s latest editorial view entitled “A Proper Role for the DC Council” provides a list of topics where landmark legislation is needed from the Council to assure the long range development of a first class core city inside a first class national capital metro area. Specific legislative initiatives are called for to provide: better reflection of national goals; “checks and balances” for local governance; greater regional cooperation; serious forward looking core city planning; and better balanced productivity of the city's diverse human and physical components. C'mon in, it's free, and good for the sinuses.



Classes at Fresh Fields Georgetown
Rakan Jawdat,

Fresh Fields/Georgetown, 2323 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, presents on Wednesday, May 12, at 7 PM: Better Health through Chiropractic. Speaker is Dr. Charlotte Jensen from Friendship Heights Chiropractic. Learn how chiropractic can help you maintain your health or bring you back to health if you suffer from back pain, neck pain, headaches, sciatica, pinched nerves, stress and more. Wednesday, May 19, at 7 PM: Beauty Foods Workshop. Donna Maria, Aromatherapy Specialist, will give a class on getting your skin in shape for spring and summer. Make your own “Spa Glow,” a facial and foot scrub, hair and face masks by using natural herbs, oils, fruit and vegetables. There is a $10 fee for materials, but you get back $5 gift certificate at the end of the class. Free. To register please call 301-984-4874 XT 3029 and leave name and number or call Fresh Fields Store in Georgetown at 202-333-5393.


Forum on the Two-Party System
Mark David Richards,

“The Two-Party System and Its Discontents: A major public conference on the domination of American politics by the two-party arrangement.” Thursday, May 13, 1999, at American University, Washington College of Law. Panelists: Ralph Nader, Congressman Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Patricia Ireland, Herbert Alexander, Hendrik Hertzberg, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Parker, Jamin Raskin, Rob Richie, Micah Sifry, Russell Verney, Ron Walters, Paul Weyrich. Sponsored by The Appleseed Electoral Reform Projects at Harvard Law School and WCL's Program on Law and Government. For more information, call 202/274-4268, , or



Station Wagon
Kathy Sinzinger,

1993 Ford Escort station wagon, blue, 60,000 miles and extremely clean. Auto, a/c, am/fm stereo cassette, power steering. New tires. Car was purchased from a dealer April 30 to replace a mini van stolen a month earlier; van was found intact several days later. Hoping to sell quickly at a reasonable price; not looking to make a profit, just to cut my losses. Call 202-529-4757 or e-mail .


Luggage for Sale
Michelle Treistman,

One 30" Skyway pullman, four external pockets, two of which can be locked, removable divider inside. Can hang four garments without folding and without interfering with interior space. Used once, asking $150 including matching carry-on, 10 year warranty. (On-sale price was $220 for both.) One Skyway garment bag with wheels, large exterior pockets that can be locked, perfect for week long business trips with casual clothes room to spare. Used three times, asking $50, 10 year warranty. (On-sale price was $90.) Please call Michelle at (202) 326-6778 if interested.


Used 286 or Better Computer Needed
Jon Katz ,

I need to buy a used desktop computer. Its power can be as low as 286, for the limited function it will provide. Please call me at Marks & Katz, LLC, (301) 495-4300.



Need New Home and Bicycle
Mark David Richards,

Brilliant and interesting twenty-something 5'9" tall female college student without car, trust fund, or high paying job needs reasonably priced bike to get around (and stay trim too). Also looking to move to big space in tame group house or for roommate to share apartment near U of MD College Park campus and Metro. Send any ideas to Mark Richards at , and he'll pass them to his younger sister.


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