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The budget ax won't help D.C. (or my business)

By Andy Shallal
Washington
Sunday, May 23, 2010; C05

It might seem to some of you that Busboys and Poets, my business, just happened. I wish that were the case.

Actually it took years of investments in people and places -- some by me, some by the District in the areas around 14th and U streets and Fifth and K streets -- for these locations to be successful. That's why I am now urging D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray and the rest of the council to add revenue to the District's budget next year. Additional money will help our city continue to make key investments in job training, health care, affordable housing and transportation, which will keep our city growing and moving toward recovery from this awful recession.

Sure, raising taxes for this reason is in my self-interest. I'm a business owner in this city, and I want more customers to have money to spend at my restaurants. Having a city with a widening gulf of haves and have-nots simply doesn't bode well for my long-term business plans.

My personal stake in this doesn't end there. One of the proposals I support is raising the income tax on the top 5 percent of earners in the city. I fall into this category, and I'm happy to tell the D.C. Council that I'm not about to move to Bethesda or Fairfax if it takes this step. My family certainly isn't going to leave behind our friends, neighbors, doctors, etc., just because of a half-percentage increase on our income taxes. I love this city and want all its residents, not just a few, to prosper.

I spend quite a bit of time looking at bottom lines. According to the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, the city's expected revenue has dropped by more than $1 billion over the past two years. We can't just cut our way out of this shortfall. We need a balanced, sensible approach. If one of my restaurants isn't drawing in enough customers on a Tuesday night, let's say, I don't just cut waitstaff and cooks. I want the customers who come that night to have the same good experience they might have on a Saturday night, and I want my staff to be happy and productive. So I look at other ways to attract people, such as having an author reading or a performance.

We need to keep our tax system productive and healthy, too. I support the proposal to modernize our sales tax system by adding services such as dog grooming, yoga classes and theater tickets to our tax code. I also don't think that those who invest in out-of-state bonds should receive a tax exemption. That creates an incentive for people to invest in Chicago and Seattle instead of in the District.

I invite you to look at what infrastructure investment can do for a city. Take 14th and U streets, for example. This dynamic part of town came about because the District decided to put resources here: The city built the Frank Reeves Municipal Center to create a daytime office population, and it worked with Metro to open a Green Line Metro station. That has brought with it millions of dollars of transit-oriented development and new residents for our city. And that means more tax revenue for schools, splash parks and libraries.

And after you take a look around 14th and U, I know a great place where you can eat and drink afterward.

The writer is owner of the Eatonville Restaurant in the District and of Busboys and Poets, a restaurant and bookstore with two locations in the District and one in Arlington.

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