Mayor Vincent C. Gray and DC Council Chairman Kwame Brown have hit a snag on increased taxes as one way to close the budget deficit. Gray proposes an increase in income and property taxes to add $35 million to the revenue stream. Brown opposes it without any apparent plans on the table as a substitute.
Some believe the outcome could strain the friendship of these Ward 7 allies. Others say it’s just politics at its best.
“Having been on the Council, the mayor understands that the chairman and other members may disagree with some of his proposals,” said Doxie McCoy, senior communications manager, Executive Office of the Mayor. “This does not put a strain on relationships.”
The mayor has outlined his proposal online with answers to many questions frequently asked. The FY2012 budget is estimated to have a gap of $322 million. Gray urged District agencies to identify cost savings, reductions and revenue opportunities to help balance the budget. Thirty percent of the current budget comes from property taxes. Additionally, 32 percent comes from income taxes.
“The mayor stands by his proposal but is confident that when all is said and done, the executive and the Council will come together to produce a balanced budget that serves the residents of the District of Columbia well,” said McCoy.
Brown is encouraged to challenge whenever necessary. “Spirited debate is the nature of the democratic process. Chairman Brown has the highest respect for Mayor Gray and there are many aspects of this budget where they have mutual agreement,” said Karen Sibert, Brown’s deputy chief of staff. “However, there will be times when their views diverge, such as with the proposal to cut services for homeless families; green team services in Wards 1, 5, 7, and 8; and services for victims of domestic violence – all of which Chairman Brown is looking to restore.”
Sibert explained, “Chairman Brown is opposed to increasing the tax rate for families with incomes of $200,000. His view is that this will impact many families and small business owners negatively,” Sibert continued. “It is important to note that the mayor’s budget proposal includes more than $90 million in other tax increases that the chairman is willing to support in order to close the deficit.”
While Gray laid his plans on the table for everyone to peruse, Brown would not divulge his proposal—at least not yet. “The Chairman does not wish at this time to discuss publicly the details of his proposals to counter the tax rate increase,” said Sibert.
Political analyst Mark Plotkin, of WTOP, said their differences are insignificant. “This is not unusual and does not affect friendship. These are separate branches of government that have their own responsibilities. This won’t be the only time we will see the mayor and council disagree,” Plotkin said.
Last year, the government relied on stimulus funds to help fill the gap that are not available this year. There is an increase in reimbursement to providers for Medicaid services and the capital budget is underfunded.
“I believe Gray is doing the right thing. Brown, on the other hand, is pandering to the public for political support. Both claim to have six votes on the council to support their budget idea. There might be lots of back and forth before it’s all over. Don’t forget the mayor has veto power,” added Plotkin.
But some are not buying either proposal, saying government waste needs to end.
“D.C. has an annual budget of $10 billion for approximately 600,000 residents. We are spending close to $17,000 per person of taxpayer money. Our Council and mayor need to do find ways to reduce spending if they want to be economically responsible. It would be irresponsible to add any tax increases at this time,” said Paul Craney, executive director of the DC Republican Committee.
Craney said the government employs over 20,000 people. “There are other jurisdictions, like Charlotte, N.C., with the same amount of residents with a city government of less than 5,000 employees. Our government should reduce in size. That would really close our budget.”