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What D.C.'s Elves Do With Your Taxes

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By Colbert I. King
Saturday, May 17, 2008

Jolly old St. Nicholas came to town early, landing at the John Wilson Building on Tuesday to give presents to a select group of D.C.-based organizations. Santa bestowed his largess in one night, thanks to his elves -- the mayor and D.C. Council -- who packaged the gifts from the city's unwitting taxpayers.

Overnight, a colossal snow job was done on residents of the nation's capital: $56 million of taxpayer funds was placed in the pockets of local groups -- some deserving, some not -- with a minimum of public debate or scrutiny.

Taxpayers wishing to know how their hard-earned money was bestowed should look no further than the "earmarks" -- line items -- embedded in the mayor's fiscal 2009 budget; many of the items were initiated and approved by the council without extensive executive branch review.

Privileged groups did well for themselves. There's also something in it for city hall's elves.

Earmarks help them stay in office.

They allow elves to tangibly show how they can help favored groups without worrying about merit or the competitive process. These acts of generosity often get repaid through votes and campaign contributions.

It can't be said that earmarks were only for struggling nonprofits in need of a helping hand.

The city, led by mayoral elf Adrian Fenty, gave the largest gift to the congressionally chartered, Exxon Mobil-sponsored, Washington A-list-led Ford's Theatre.

The theater boasts support from foundations, corporations and generous individual donors. Yet Ford's Theatre walked away with $10 million in taxpayer funding to be used in its Center for Education and Leadership. It hopes to raise an additional $20 million from other sources.

The city is likely to get even more for putting up one-third of the loot.

When Ford's Theatre reopens next year, be sure to observe the bowing and scraping that will greet Santa's elected elves as they arrive to be escorted to choice seats -- all for having been so generous with your money.

I can hear you grinches: How could lawmakers approve this kind of spending when, in the same budget, they cut police funding by $2.5 million and whittled down the fire and emergency services' budget by nearly $3 million?

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