Gray spend­ing plan could use a splash of color

The Washington Times Daily - - Metro - DEB­O­RAH SIM­MONS

Noth­ing ven­tured, noth­ing gained. That about sums up the Gray ad­min­is­tra­tion’s mes­sage as the bud­get sea­son gets un­der way. Mayor Vin­cent C. Gray re­leased his 2013 spend­ing plan for the Dis­trict on Fri­day, and at first blush it ap­pears to grant D.C. tax­pay­ers a spe­cial wish by not propos­ing new fees and taxes that would gnaw on the strained bud­gets of work­ing- and mid­dle-class fam­i­lies.

But it may be smoke and mir­rors, folks, since the mayor knew he didn’t have to push the nonew-taxes ge­nie out of its com­fort­able sur­round­ings.

Still, it’s an il­lu­sion and a dis­trac­tion that hides the fact that he’s de­pend­ing on the taxand-spend true bloods on the D.C. Coun­cil to clear the air in the name of the broth­ers and sis­ters for the poor.

Law­mak­ers, the orig­i­nal tax­pay­ers, deem the city’s so­cial safety net as thread­bare each spring, and this sea­son is no dif­fer­ent.

But cast­ing taxes and fees aside un­til the coun­cil be­gins its re­view of the mayor’s plan, here’s some­thing that’s truly dis­ap­point­ing: The mayor’s plan spells s-a-f-e.

Noth­ing new or ex­cit­ing. Noth­ing that even guar­an­tees the un­em­ployed, un­der­em­ployed or poor fam­i­lies will in­deed be bet­ter off in the near fu­ture.

The $9.4 bil­lion plan calls for new spend­ing that pours tens of mil­lions of ad­di­tional dol­lars into ed­u­ca­tion, public safety and hous­ing, and makes the usual ar­gu­ments for rais­ing the stakes on work­force pro­grams, wel­fare re­form lite, and park­ing and traf­fic en­force­ment.

Sadly, in­no­va­tive poli­cies and out-of-the-box poli­cies are nowhere to be found. Take af­ford­able hous­ing by way of ex­am­ple. The mayor missed a golden op­por­tu­nity to en­cour­age teach­ers, po­lice and fire­fight­ers to ac­tu­ally re­side where they earn their liv­ing.

While Mr. Gray keeps the eco­nom­i­cally down­trod­den and crime-weary res­i­dents on the west side of the Ana­cos­tia River in his sight line, he fails to no­tice that they ac­tu­ally would be bet­ter off liv­ing among po­lice of­fi­cers and fire­fight­ers who are sworn to pro­tect them.

Cre­at­ing af­ford­able hous­ing for our first re­spon­ders and ed­u­ca­tors would make those D.C. em­ploy­ees truly vested in our com­mu­ni­ties.

As things stand now, these life-risk­ing, life-build­ing pro­fes­sion­als earn a liv­ing here but plop their hard-earned tax dol­lars into cof­fers con­trolled by politi­cians in Mary­land, Virginia and other states.

And take an­other look at the jar­gon in the mayor’s spend­ing plan.

On page 17 of the bud­get over­view handed out Fri­day, he high­lighted what he char­ac­ter­ized as “af­ford­able hous­ing in­vest­ments.” Well, folks, clear the smoke.

There’s $6.2 mil­lion in new lo­cal spend­ing for rent sup­ple­ments for the D.C. Hous­ing Au­thor­ity.

And, oh, look in the mir­ror, be­cause there’s $19.9 mil­lion for rent sub­si­dies for the Hous­ing Pro­duc­tion Trust Fund.

And, um, an­other $6.2 mil­lion for Depart­ment of Men­tal Health hous­ing sub­si­dies.

All three sub­si­dies take from work­ing- and mid­dle-class tax­pay­ers with lit­tle re­turn on in­vest­ment.

Rob­bing Peter, never pay­ing Paul

Mr. Gray, his pre­de­ces­sors and law­mak­ers have played fa­vorites when it comes to trans­porta­tion, hat­ing mo­torists and cod­dling bi­cy­clists, giv­ing the lat­ter a free ride while pun­ish­ing mo­torists ev­ery time they start their en­gines.

Well, to get an­other per­spec­tive, I turned to coun­cil at-large can­di­date E. Gail An­der­son Hol­ness, who con­tin­ues to make park­ing a top pri­or­ity of her plat­form.

Asked what city hall should be do­ing about the dearth of public park­ing and ten­dency to rely on park­ing-en­force­ment poli­cies and rev­enues that grant no re­turn-on-in­vest­ment for D.C. res­i­dents, Ms. Hol­ness said:

“We need to build more public park­ing fa­cil­i­ties for D.C. mo­torists. There is plenty of land we could co-op for park­ing fa­cil­i­ties. No­body’s think­ing about it, and no­body’s talk­ing about it but me. I’m in fa­vor of bike lanes . . . and priv­i­leges for the hand­i­cap. I don’t know that we need any in­crease any­where for park­ing or traf­fic en­force­ment . . . be­cause of dis­par­i­ties in in­come. I do know that we will have ‘One City’ if ev­ery­body is driven out when they [can’t af­ford] to live here.”

Hmm. Her com­ments point out an­other fact the mayor has seem­ingly for­got­ten.

Since the 1960s, the Dis­trict has al­ways but­tered its bread with black work­ing- and mid­dle­class fam­i­lies.

If city hall con­tin­ues to rob them, they’ll get the boot — and get a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive on what it means to be out of a job.

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