DMV Daily: Taxes and Budget Axes

Some want tax hikes; Gray says no

Happy holidays! Have a tax hike.

Though the folks in that big marble building on the Mall are getting ready to extend federal tax cuts, several D.C. councilmembers want to up local taxes to fill the budget gap. Ward 6’s Tommy Wells, writing at Greater Greater Washington, says that under current plans, “human services, public safety, public education, health care, public works and the government workforce will be cut to the bone,” but “not a single tax increase is on the table. That’s not fair.”

Wells is proposing a budget amendment “to raise the D.C. income tax for citizens with the highest annual incomes. This modest increase would be graduated: 1/4 of 1% for incomes of $75,000 to $150,000, 1/2 of 1% for incomes of $150,000 to $500,000, and 1% for incomes over $500,000.”

The Washington Post says At-Large Councilmember Michael Brown and Ward 1’s Jim Graham are also expected to call for tax increases today, but Mayor-elect Vincent Gray “is not likely to go along with the idea.” Gray does not want tax hikes in the first budget of his term, and “has been signaling to members he would prefer to take up the question of a tax increase next spring,” when the deficit is expected to be about twice as large as the current $188 million. (Washington City Paper also says Gray is unlikely to back any tax increases for now -- “a move that will earn kudos from the more fiscally conservative set while earning scorn from social services advocates and labor unions.)

So what will come out of today’s budget session? As DCist writes, “nearly everyone is in the dark about what the Council will produce.” There’s not even a consensus on how much to cut.

The Washington Times reports Mayor Adrian Fenty requested just $161 million in cuts in his proposal, which would leave a modest deficit, while Gray “is rallying his colleagues around a higher target of $238 million” in order to have an extra $50 million “in a reserve account ‘to cover unforeseen pressures.’”

Wasn’t Fenty supposed to be the quasi-Republican and Gray the tax-and-spender? Writes Jonetta Rose Barras in the Washington Examiner: Gray and Kwame Brown “have reached the put-up-or-shut-up point. After weeks of talking about the need to make tough budget decisions, Tuesday they must act.”

One thing seems certain: Residents won’t get a chance to weigh in, or even to watch the negotiations. Despite campaign vows of new openness and extensive public input, Council Chair-Elect Kwame Brown “says there hasn’t been enough time for the D.C. Council and the public to discuss” the process, the Examiner reports. While Brown said meetings have been taking place, the Examiner notes that Gray “had promised that more of that time would take place in the public eye. Instead, Gray canceled a would-be televised council meeting to discuss the budget that had been scheduled for Monday. He’s also met with each council members in closed-door, one-on-one meetings.”

Last month, Gray said in a speech, “I will do everything possible to ensure that this budget gap-closing process is as transparent as possible. I will ensure that budget deliberations will be broadcast live on Channel 13.” That hasn’t happened.

Elsewhere in the DMV:

* Leslie Johnson is now a member of the Prince George’s County Council. As new County Executive Rushern Baker vowed that his administration “would be the most ethical in the Washington region,” Ms. Johnson was taking office and Baker’s predecessor Jack Johnson “wore an ankle monitor just one row behind Baker as he sat next to his wife,” the Examiner writes.

While Maryland law would require Ms. Johnson to resign if she is convicted of a felony, she is of course innocent until proven guilty and has the legal right to hold office. But the Johnson scandal “is a reminder of the albatross that will hang around Baker as tries to make Prince George’s the self-proclaimed ‘gold standard and envy of other communities,’” the Examiner says.

The Post writes that with Baker taking over, “there’s plenty of predictable talk about rebirth, reform and a government shakeup” -- police chief Roberto Hylton is already out. But federal investigators “have promised more arrests, fueling speculation about who will be next -- whose home and office will be raided and whose records will be subpoenaed.” Greater Greater Washington runs a long letter from “two Prince George’s County employees” to Baker on Prince George's corruption woes.

* The Post reports Virginia Tea Party Patriots Federation Chair Jamie Radtke, who is considering a Republican U.S. Senate run, “did not seek a second term during the group’s closed-door elections this weekend.” The Post also says former congressman Tom Davis, “a moderate from Northern Virginia,” is also considering entering a GOP Senate race expected to include ex-Sen. George Allen, Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart, and possibly state legislator Bob Marshall.

* Gov. Bob McDonnell is playing Santa Claus. He announced Monday that Virginia state workers will get an extra paid day off on Dec. 23 as a “small token of my thanks for your continued hard work and dedication to serving the citizens of our Commonwealth.” With Christmas on a Saturday this year, state employees already had Friday, Dec. 24, as a paid holiday.

* The Georgetown Dish reports Schanette Grant, chief of staff for Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, “is the highest-paid of all chiefs of staff in the D.C. Council.” Grant earns $132,000 per year -- almost $50,000 more than Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham’s Calvin Woodland and “is higher than most chiefs of staff to members of the U.S. House of Representatives -- who earn an average of $120,051.” Evans “said he is happy to pay for high-quality staff. ‘My philosophy is I don’t have a whole lot of staff members. I pay them well. They do a good job and they stay with me a long time.’”

* District Curmudgeon writes of receiving an anonymous letter warning of a killer living nearby after Kwan Kearney was one of those arrested in the murders of Joseph Sharps and Jamal Wilson.

* Woodman, spare that tree -- at least until we can have a public meeting.

* How stressed are you? Try Washingtonian’s quiz.

* Alternative Christmas Eve alternatives: the “Matzoball” and “Falafal Frenzy.”

Follow P.J. Orvetti on Twitter at @PJOinDC

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