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As the Mayor Sees It

Wednesday, March 23, 2005; Page A14

IT WAS THE kind of State of the District address that any D.C. mayor would love to give. In his speech Monday night at the Lincoln Theatre, Anthony A. Williams was able to remind the invitation-only audience that the District's days of unbalanced budgets, junk-bond status, court-operated agencies and control-board-led government were over. Crime is down 12 percent, the share of D.C. adults without health insurance has dropped to 9 percent (less than half the national average), and residents are attending college in record numbers (many are the first in their families). The city is sitting on a $1.2 billion financial reserve, and, for the first time in 15 years, enjoys a double-A Wall Street investment rating. Mr. Williams had much to crow about, and he didn't miss the opportunity. But early in his speech, the mayor also announced: "I am not done." It is that aspect of his remarks that warrants closer attention.

While not coming off exactly as "Lord Bountiful," the mayor offered a series of proposals that would make him distributor of the city's newfound largesse, fixing much if not all that he says is wrong in the nation's capital. To distressed neighborhoods fearful of displacement, the mayor would devote $50 million for bricks and mortar, social services and affordable housing. For the homeless, $20 million for preventative services and subsidized housing. He proposes to give earned-income tax credits to fathers paying child support but not living with their children, more than $10,000 per year for grandparents raising grandchildren, $9 million for mothers qualifying for child-care subsidies, 1,000 paid mentors for at-risk youths, an extra $26 million for the school superintendent to spend as he wishes, $6.3 million to provide jobs for 10,000 young people, an extra $8 million for the University of the District of Columbia to train residents for new jobs, and $3 million for literacy programs.

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And Mr. Williams didn't stop there. He promised a revived Howard Theatre; an 11th Street Bridge makeover; renovated libraries and recreation centers; an extra $4 million for more music, dance and "artistic expression across the city"; and transformed transportation arteries in Northeast Washington and east of the Anacostia River.

Also: almost $100 million in tax reductions, promised under the motto "We must give all residents tax relief"; increased personal and standard exemptions for low-income workers and big families; a doubled earned-income tax credit for working families; a tax freeze for everyone making less than $50,000 a year; a 50 percent tax cut for disabled residents; an increase in the homestead deduction for every homeowner; and tax cuts for single renters making $75,000 a year.

It was a speech that left virtually no resident -- or voter -- behind. What about fiscal constraints and attention to basic services, some of which remain below expectations? Silence. True, it was, as billed, a bold speech, brimming with optimism. Only a detailed examination of the mayor's budget, to be unveiled today, will tell whether his vision is as responsible and attuned to the District's needs as it is bold and optimistic.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company