Monday, April 30, 2012

DC 2013 Budget: Cut the Poor, Collect More Fines

Once again it is Budget Season and the picture is not pretty. Even more money is being cut from programs for the poorer residents, and lots more traffic cameras, inspectors, and fees for the rest of us.  [Just heard later hours for liquor service was voted down, despite the fact most neighborhoods are covered by special agreements specifying the hours.]

Testimony, Mayor's 2013 Budget Hearing, April 30, 2012
G. Lee Aikin, DC Statehood Green Party

Thank you for hearing our concerns. Our current very painful budget recommends cutting money to programs for the least successful and most helpless people in our city, while also trying to scrape up money from many different sources.  One budget measure cancels any increase in Deductions and Exemptions on the D-40, or for the Homestead Exemption.   Small increases in these amounts were made in recent years, after long neglect starting in 1991. But we are still far behind where we began in the early 1970s when Home Rule started and our D&Es were comparable to Federal rates.  Only "coupling" with the Federal rates will correct this oversight allowed to persist by many of our elected officials for over 30 years.  This oversight has most unfairly impacted our lowest income tax payers. What is the point of budget autonomy if we haven't even held onto the benefits we once had.

Meanwhile, our local government was used as an employment service to create jobs for many people in the city. Unfortunately, more and more of our employees are now from outside the city. While full employment is a worthy goal, creating vast bureaucracies and regulations to provide those jobs with rather high salaries, is counter-productive.  This was shown when we needed to furlough many city employees for 4 days without pay to meet the budget.  Now there is talk of repaying those 4 days to all, even the highest paid. [Late word is that the Council has refused to pay the 4 days. They should think about offering 4 more days vacation, or sick and emergency leave days.] Should we consider cutting the top salaries by 1 or 2%, and the slightly lower ones by ½ to 1%? In the 1930s my mother, a teacher, took a 10% cut for 3 years.

The Fiscal Policy Institute points out that current proposed budget cuts are at least $50 million, and that another $240 million was already cut from low income programs since 2008. For a family of 4 in the bottom 100,000 residents, this amounts to over $11,000 in cuts. Perhaps we should increase taxes 1 or 2% on our wealthiest residents, and ½ to 1% for those earning above $100,000.

To save money, and refund worthy service programs, we could also consider encouraging our city employees to take more time off, especially during slack periods in the annual work flow.  If, for example, a month or more off was planned 6 months to a year in advance, then the annual salary could be adjusted to pay the employee a little less every month to cover the extra time off.  In some places teachers can be paid for 10 months work during 10 month, or for 12 months with a lower monthly check. Extra time off could be spent with family, house fixing, gardening, travel, study, etc. When I was employed, I would gladly have accepted less money with more time to do the many things I wanted to do.

I was pleased to see a lower $1.65 Class 2 property tax rate for businesses under $3 million. This is still far more than Arlington, Alexandria and PG County which charge around $1.00 per $100 assessed value. We need to revisit that tax rate if we want Anacostia and Georgia Avenue to compete successfully. We should consider having a lower business property tax rate in some parts of the city.

I also noted more employees will be hired to police the Vacant Property program.  The last time there was a major push on vacant property it seemed that all they did was drive around and list any property that looked like it was being renovated.  One couple had lived in their row house through the entire renovation, but it took years, and many wasted city man hours, to get themselves out of this mess. Although the city wrote their mortgage bank approving the Class 1 rate, the Tax Sale list was not fixed.  I went to the Tax Sale to see if a property with a recent Appeal approval had been removed. I was told  DCRA worked all night sending down 500 names for removal.  Checking the status, the appealed property had been removed, but the other property was still on the list.

Does no one on the Council or in the Mayor's office know the meaning of cost/benefit analysis?  I hope that some of you do, and hope that you will urge that it be done for a number of nuisance fees, programs, and tax rates. I could provide some items for your consideration. Thank you.

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