Once upon a time, Phil Mendelson was an understanding politician — not one I always agreed with, but someone who seemed to comprehend the role of government, which includes helping those who can’t help themselves.
He seemed to understand while not giving handouts, government should be there to offer a hand up to people in need allowing them to build a better life for themselves and their families.
Today, Mendelson seems to have forgotten all of that. His latest effort to cut taxes for those who don’t need a tax cut is an apparent attempt to appeal to the upper middle class and the rich while forgetting about the poor.
The District of Columbia is still two cities — one well off and benefitting from a rebounding economy and the other poor and yet to benefit from the new economy. Mendelson, like me, is a part of the segment of society doing well. A member of the group with top-tier healthcare, a growing retirement fund, excellent housing, often with a two-income household with children doing well in school partially because of all the benefits their parents’ economic status allows them to have at home.
You would think the chair of the Council of D.C., who once claimed to be a liberal, would have as his goal to pass legislation that would work to see every family and every child has that same chance to succeed. Instead it now appears Mendelson has decided, “I want to protect what I have and anything left over can be used for others.”
That is not how we should be governing in the District of Columbia. We know there are enormous problems in our city needing attention. The opportunity to fix them or at least make a dent in those problems will take money. Some of the areas in which additional funding is needed include programs to eliminate homelessness; programs to train people for available jobs; upgrading our fire and EMS services; improving and expanding our summer jobs programs for young people; and ensuring the appropriate level of slots and training for the MPD.
We need to fund programs such as the Clinton initiative ‘Too Small to Fail,’ which provides materials and help for children from birth to age five so their brains can grow and they have the opportunity to reach their full God-given potential. Funds are needed to provide child care so poor parents can afford to go to work and money for school programs focusing on those needing more from their schools than children coming from middle and upper socio-economic homes.
What clearly isn’t needed is a tax cut. My life, like that of the Council chair, is such that we would tend to spend much of our time with people who are in the middle and upper middle class socio-economic sector of society. Recently having spent time fundraising for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, I have spent more time with people who would be considered by many to be wealthy. Not once in discussions with any of them over what needs to be done to improve life in D.C. has anyone mentioned a tax cut. That has never come up in any conversation. People talk about cutting the red tape for starting a small business in the District; they talk about the dysfunction at Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA); they discuss the need to build new middle schools and improve programming at the ones that exist; and they want to ensure there are enough good teachers so we don’t vastly increase class sizes. They talk about everything but a tax cut.
So my question to Mendelson and anyone else on the Council who thinks tax cuts are crucial at this time is: Who are they talking to? Who is telling you that above all the problems we have in the District a tax cut is their priority?
I would venture if Mendelson and any other Council member asks a constituent who mentions a tax cut if instead they would rather see better schools, more police on the street, better EMS services, less homelessness and more job training, suddenly the tax cut issue, except for someone who is selfish or a conservative Republican, would suddenly fall to the bottom of their list of wants.
I urge the D.C. Council to reject any more tax cuts for the wealthy until they have solved all the other problems in the District. Once they can claim they have dealt with all these other issues then go ahead and talk tax cuts.
Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBT and Democratic Party activist.