A Peephole Into “Nickel-and-Dime” Taxes, Fees

D.C. Council members meet in semi-secret to discuss the budget

It wasn't a totally secret meeting of the D.C. Council today. Chairman Vincent Gray allowed one government cable channel to shoot the 13 council members as they sat around a conference table discussing the city's next budget and its affect on citizens and businesses.

In the past, these work sessions were held in private. Gray allowed reporters to sit in last year. This time around, just that cable TV camera.

While the government camera picked up much of the conversation around the table, it wasn't the same as being there.  You could see or hear the side conversations that go on among council members or between their staffs who line the room, but you couldn't see if someone passed notes or papers or other documents that were being discussed. In other words, seeing this work session from one camera angle is like seeing it through a peephole.

So what were the council members discussing?

The council is to vote next Wednesday on the mayor's 2010 budget of almost $11 billion. As of today, there's a $500 million budget gap.

Although almost every city agency is taking budget hits, the mayor also is proposing a long series of "nickle and dime" taxes and fees to help close the budget gap. The proposals include higher parking meter fees -- raising the maximum charge for two hours to $3 from $2.

"That's one people really hate," said Council member Jack Evans, chairman of the finance and revenue committee.

Evans is suggesting -- but has not yet proposed -- that the city's vast government bureaucracy take a furlough day or two, a move that would free up about $5 million each furlough day. He said if the city did this, all those nickle-and-dime fees could be eliminated. Some on the council pointed out that as much as 70 percent of the city's workforce lives in the suburbs and can't vote against council members who support a furlough.

All the back and forth has to be done by the council's vote next Wednesday. Expect several more meetings at which there will be neither reporters nor government cameras before it's all worked out.

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