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Williams Calls for Aid For Children, The Poor

Tax Cuts Also Proposed In State of District Speech

By Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 22, 2005; Page B01

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams last night proposed spending $120 million on new programs for children, the homeless and the poor, saying the District has been restored to fiscal health and is ready to offer a helping hand to those who have been left behind.

In his annual State of the District address, Williams (D) also called for nearly $100 million in property and income tax cuts that would benefit taxpayers at all income levels. But even tax relief would be carefully calibrated to offer the most significant benefits to the poor, the disabled and the elderly, he said.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams delivers his State of the District address in the Lincoln Theatre. For the first time in Williams's tenure, the crowd at the address was invitation-only. (Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)

Flush with cash from skyrocketing property values, Williams said, the District is for the first time in years in a position to make long-neglected investments in education, community development and social service programs aimed at bridging the growing divide between rich and poor, black and white, east of the Anacostia River and west of Rock Creek Park.

"We're like a family that, after years of financial ruin and sacrifice, is finally out of debt," Williams told a full house at the historic Lincoln Theatre on U Street NW. "The credit cards are under control. Now we must address the long-term investments -- to our home, our children's education, our retirement fund -- that we have put off for too long."

William called his proposed budget for 2006, delivered yesterday to the D.C. Council, "both bold and responsible, both targeted to the disadvantaged and fair to all." His wish list calls for $50 million in new spending to revitalize the city's poorest neighborhoods and an additional $20 million in new services for the homeless. The mayor would dedicate an additional $50 million to children and education, including $6.3 million for summer jobs and $26 million to be spent on public schools at the discretion of the new superintendent, Clifford B. Janey.

Williams also proposed slicing income and property taxes by $40 million in the fiscal year that begins in October, in part by increasing credits for the working poor and freezing property taxes for homeowners who earn less than $50,000 a year. And he would authorize continued implementation of a 1999 law that will slice $53 million from residents' tax bills next year by further reducing the city's income tax rate. The top rate for residents earning more than $40,000 a year is scheduled to drop from 9 to 8.7 percent in 2006.

In substance and tone, the 54-minute speech borrowed heavily from Williams's detractors, including council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) and two other newcomers who won election to the council in the fall in part by arguing that Williams had neglected the largely African American wards east of the Anacostia.

The speech also seemed to fire a shot across the bow of the budding campaigns of those lining up to replace Williams, who has yet to announce whether he will seek a third term. Two weeks ago, Williams presented brief but biting critiques of each of his potential rivals. Last night, he touted his accomplishments, saying the city is safer, healthier, more prosperous and sending more of its children to college than ever.

"We are strong. We are only getting better. But we are not done," Williams said. "And, no, I am not done!"

Afterward, Williams told reporters that the remark did not signal his intention to run again in 2006 but merely sent the message that "I'm still mayor, for however long I'm mayor. I'm not sitting around watching 'Ozzie and Harriet.' I'm still working."

But the audience, which was for the first time in Williams's six-year tenure an invitation-only crowd, seemed to have other ideas. The comment drew loud and sustained applause. In contrast to the listless and even hostile receptions Williams has gotten in years past, last night's gathering of politicians, bureaucrats, senior citizens and community activists generally laughed warmly at his jokes, applauding him nearly four dozen times.

Williams spokeswoman Sharon Gang said the closed event was designed to include representatives from a "broad cross section" of the community. Williams, however, acknowledged to reporters that it was also designed to keep critics out.

"To be honest with you, I would like to deliver my message uninterrupted by a lot of people protesting," Williams said. "You got 300 and however many days to protest me. Two or three times [a year]. That's all I'm asking."

The mayor is scheduled to discuss his budget proposal with council members and the public tomorrow, after he returns from today's burial services in Newport News, Va., for slain Cabinet member Wanda R. Alston.

For now, reviews of the address are good.

"He gave a good speech. He talked about people east of the river," Barry said.

"It was very compassionate," said council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5), who is considering giving up his seat to run for mayor. "Government has accomplished so much, now it's time to give back to the people, to spend money on people who really need it so everyone has an opportunity to join in the prosperity of the District of Columbia."

Staff writer Hamil R. Harris contributed to this report.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company