July 2, 2015 at 1:23 pm EDT | by Peter Rosenstein
Mendelson goes off the rails with tax cuts
divorce, Phil Mendelson, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

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.

  • Nonsense. It’s about growing our economic pie, not constantly cutting a bigger slice out of it.

    DC needs to stay competitive with Maryland and Virginia to attract small business entrepreneurs and retain the young professionals who moved to the city in the last decade, but now find DC too expensive to stay.

    Mendo understands that only by keeping DC living and business cost-competitive can we retain and grow the tax base– which will expand revenues as well. That’s proven ‘liberal’ economics, and it’s as old and reliable as JFK and FDR.

  • Peter, instead of taking cheap shots at steadfast LGBT-rights Council allies, I think you’d do better serving DC LGBTQs by getting Mayor Bowser to stop covering up brutal anti-LGBT hate crimes.

    And how about showing a little support for MPD and GLLU? Or how about supporting the U.S. Attorneys Office for attempting to prosecute that horrific anti-gay crime– suggesting as much as a 15 year sentence– without any support at all from the Mayor Bowser’s Office of LGBT Affairs?

    Folks can read all about it here…

    • What on earth does this have to do with being an LGBT advocate. Thankfully to the work of many over the years a politician who isn’t an LGBT advocate can’t be elected to citywide office in the District. So we should be grateful that in the District we can differ with our politicians on issues other than those that specifically relate to LGBT affairs and still support them on issues on which we agree with them. If you have any idea of my work in the District,- and I know you read my columns as you comment on them often- I take second to none in my work in support of the MPD and the GLLU. Feel free to ask any member of the GLLU or for that matter Chief Lanier who will vouch for the work I have done to keep the GLLU in existence.

  • Hardly “off the rails.” Conservatives always want to cut taxes, no matter what the circumstances. As liberals, we are allowed to think. Smart liberals know there are times to raise taxes and times to cut them. Effective public policy is a matter of doing what is effective, not what is ideologically pure.

    • You haven’t weighed in about whether Mendo’s gambit is effective public policy.

      • Honestly, I don’t have strong feelings about this. My reaction to the article was that is was simplistic and naive – i.e.,
        “there are lots of poor people in DC, so it’s wrong to cut taxes now.”
        There are usually valid arguments to be made against a tax cut proposal,
        but the article does not make any – it’s just an ideological rant that
        tax cuts are always wrong. Hence, my comparison to conservatives who always think taxes are too high.

        But, I do hold Mendelson in very high regard (for reasons unrelated to this issue), and, if there ever is a time to cut taxes, it is now. Deficit spending makes sense in a downturn. Conversely, tax cuts make sense in an upturn, particularly with an existing surplus. The district has a substantial budget surplus, revenues are up and the local economy is thriving. And, to put this in perspective, the new 8.75% tax bracket for households between $350k and $1m in income, is still a full three points higher than the highest income tax rate in MD or VA (5.75%).

        Yes, there is endemic poverty in DC. It is due to a variety of socioeconomic factors that lots of
        well-meaning government and nonprofit actors have attempted to address
        for many decades. But it is not due to the overall level of government spending or the overall level of taxation.

  • notarepublican butwantsataxcut

    Peter, I am one of the people who wants a tax cut. I agree the District has plenty of problems, but throwing more money at them isn’t the solution. However, it is well worth noting that rich people have options, and this area provides many. If the city keeps taxing and taxing and taxing the rich (and the not-so-rich, but not-poor-either, like me), we can choose to leave for MD or VA, and take our tax dollars with us. Only an idiot would advocate making the city undesirable for the very people who pay the taxes that foot the bill for the people you claim to want to help. If you want to see how well DC does solving the ills of the world you list without rich people willing to live here and pay for it, go get yourself a time machine and visit DC any time from 1980 to 1999. It wasn’t pretty, I promise.

    • You forget that under our current tax structure over the past decade the city has grown by about 50,000 people- mostly middle and upper economic brackets. The tax structure didn’t stop them from moving here. I lived here from 1980 to 1999 and know how far we have come. Now is not the time to stop that progress. By people who pay taxes moving here we have seen by their actions that the City is not undesirable for them.

    • The cumulative tax burden on upper-income people is not higher in D.C. than it is in Maryland. D.C. has a regressive tax structure, when all taxes are taken into account; in a city where the vast majority of residents are registered Democrats, that’s nonsensical. Perhaps notarepublican butwantsataxcut needs to rethink his party identification.

  • Funny how liberals always seem to think MY money somehow belongs to them. Accountability & cost/benefit analysis are foreign concepts to left wing “do-gooders”.

    • What makes it your money? Were you born with it in your mouth?

      • Gee, I show up EVERY day at work and expect to get paid. Or are you of the same socialistic mindset as your messiah, Obumbler, that MY money somehow belongs to the government and they are kind enough to let me keep some of it?

        • And where does your employer get the money to pay you?

          • Not from the federal, state or local government, which YOU obviously work for.

            I work in the PRIVATE sector, which generates ALL the money the government depends on?

          • Is it possible for you to answer without promoting your ideology? I worked for the government when I was young, but that was so long ago that I am retired. I worked in the private sector for most of my working life. My point is simply that money is a medium we agree to use as a token of work exchanged. I agree to give my money to your employer for something your employer provides, ad infinitum. Ultimately its a medium of social exchange. Unless your private sector employer is an alchemist that spins gold out of baser ingredients, it does not create money; it receives money from others who exchange money for goods or services. It’s an endless circle. I see money rather like Native Americans regard land. And you can’t take it with you.

          • I have to agree with your outlook you so eloquently explained above. Bravo.

            My point is that this money I earn is MINE. Of course taxes are the price we pay to live in our society. But when I sat down years ago and carefully tracked EVERY penny I made each month and broke out all the taxes, fees, and other pounds of flesh various government agencies took from me from my paycheck, purchases, utility bills, ad nauseum, I was up over 40%.

            It’s time to say no more and have government better use what they already take before they come back to ask for more. The mindset that I get to keep more of my money as being “conservative” is anathema to me.

          • I wholeheartedly agree that the DC government must use the money we pay in taxes soooo much better. I’m furious daily about that.

          • Unfortunately I let the fury make me a troll :(

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