October 6, 2011 | by Mark Lee
‘Scandal scarred’ D.C. Council reverses vote on taxes

Our city government has become an embarrassment.

The pity is D.C.’s elected officials don’t seem to realize they have crossed that elusive “line in the sand” with the public.

It’s not difficult to understand why many residents now turn their heads, lower their gaze and recoil when a news report begins, “The D.C. Council today…”

Who knows how that sentence might end?

With a majority of Council members, as well as Mayor Vincent Gray, under what is delicately described as an “ethical cloud,” a bitterly fractured Council has come to resemble a drag queen dressing room before show time — bitchy, yes, but unfortunately, not as amusing or good natured.

However, LGBT political and community organizations utter nary a peep in protest — despite the fact that it’s difficult just to keep all the details of official malfeasance organized in a pitiable voter’s mind.

Can’t someone convince disgraced Council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5), who has agreed — without admitting any wrongdoing while a criminal investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s office continues — to repay $300,000 in city funds intended for a youth athletic program spent instead on an Audi SUV, trips to golf and other resorts, meals and personal items, that it’s time to go?

Two weeks ago, the wigs really came off during the Council’s traditional pre-meeting breakfast.

Many undoubtedly let loose a cheer that was more than merely a guilty pleasure when gay D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) was reported to have shouted at colleague Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large), a proponent of raising local income taxes, “I don’t give a shit what you think!” The often mercurial and sharp-tongued Catania was reacting to being chastened by Mendelson, who suggested it was “inappropriate . . . to talk about Council members’ personal issues” when Catania referenced the tax-paying deficiencies of at least two among them.

When Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), the financial dean of the Council who has served for more than two decades and chairs the Committee on Finance and Revenue, exhorts, “This is the worst Council I’ve ever served on,” well, you know something is not quite right.

Following failed attempts by gay D.C. Council member Jim “Don’t-Call-It-a-Bribe” Graham (D-Ward 1) and a handful of others to raise taxes on higher income residents and a proposal by the mayor last spring to raise taxes on those making $200,000 or more was defeated, Mendelson successfully proposed raising taxes on those with incomes above $350,000 to a whopping 8.95 percent, generating $106 million over four years. (When it’s supposed to sunset – like the sales tax increase recently extended.)

Passage by a single vote of a previously rejected increase in D.C.’s already steep income tax rate of 8.5 percent — among the highest in the nation — occurred as the city announced greater-than-expected revenues and a budget surplus of $89 million.

For all the talk about budget cuts last spring, city spending will actually increase to $10.8 billion and a bevy of new fees have been enacted. Like the crack addicts once symbolic of the nation’s capital, give the D.C. Council more money and they will quickly spend it like junkies in search of a fix.

Although the current tax increase affects only about 6,000 taxpayers, a number of those are local small business owners and entrepreneurs – community investors and job creators who should be encouraged to remain committed to our city as residents. While the bridges to business-friendly Virginia, where the top tax rate is more than 3 percent lower, won’t soon be jammed with moving vans, shouldn’t Washington expect a result similar to Maryland’s imposition of a “millionaire’s tax” later abandoned last year – a dramatic drop in tax filings and a loss in revenue due to resident departures?

And if — like Graham, Mendelson and the Council’s other tax-and-spenders — you think D.C.’s income tax scheme is regressive due to a lack of variable tax brackets for those making more than $40,000, why not return the largest taxpayers to the previous top-tier-in-the-nation rate and progressively lower the rates for those below?

Maybe then it wouldn’t feel like being Alice trapped inside Wonderland.

Mark Lee is a local small business manager and long-time community business advocate. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

3 Comments
  • Scandal scarred or not the DC Council did the right thing by raising the top tax rate to 8.95%.

  • Fairly unBiased? You’re decorative article obscured the real issues in it’s muddled metaphors. And it’s another example of the Blade playing pocket pool with some electeds.

    Surely you’re just speaking on behalf of the elite. There are many in the LGBT community who appreciate Mr Mendelson (the dude who helped get gay marriage passed, which gives him honorary LGBT status in my book) and his calm methodical reasonableness; he is rarely shrill (especially for the sake of sound bites in the capitalist infotainment media); indeed, he’s usually respectful communicating with his colleagues, citizens and the media in a way that is what we’d expect from intelligent electeds. Catania’s comment was inappropriate: Councilmembers should care about what other members of the body think and come to reasonable ways to find common strategies to address issues.

    Your glip article lip glossed over the misdeeds of those you seem to get behind and fluff up in this piece. Jack Evans and his cronies (ie: slum lords greedy/heartless developers who don’t care about neighborhoods and get Evans help to evade their proper tax responsibilities, ANC Commissioners who take payoffs like prostitutes and remain tight lipped about them, charlatans who Evans has given millions of dollars to (NOT) squash gang beefs, and convicted criminals who Evans has put in charge of directing Federal grant monies) surely deserve more scrutiny.

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