HOLD ON to your wallets -- Mayor Barry is talking tax increases again, including those windfall tax payments that he promised not to soak up last year. As any good politician would do too, he's calling for these increases in the name of city services that everybody tends to support -- to fight crime, drug abuse, homelessness and unemployment. What isn't clear -- and what council members will be looking at -- is the total city government payroll. Last year, when Mr. Barry originally tried to build a case for keeping all the local revenues that federal changes would have yielded, council member John A. Wilson, chairman of the Finance and Revenue Committee , took a sharp look at the mayor's spending and made a case for backing off those tax increases. He's ready to try again -- and his numbers will bear watching.
Mr. Wilson still maintains that the D.C. government is "the employment agency of last resort," that it is "paying people to deliver services that it can't afford." He does acknowledge that a correct balance between spending and taxing "will not be an easy one to achieve," but he believes it can be done without raising taxes. Council member Betty Ann Kane also has her doubts; her office points to 13 new staff positions requested for a total of $567,000. Another bit of expensive math: of $2.8 billion in budgeted spending for next year, 48 percent is for paying salaries and fringe benefits of government employees. This does not include another $500 million the city government receives in federal money, which pays for, among other things, 5,593 additional D.C. government employees.
Add all this up and you're looking at $3.3 billion and 44,480 employees. Is it possible that perhaps the payroll might be shaved just a bit to free more dollars for services? Mayor Barry's proposals would extract the increases from taxpayers by repealing two tax relief measures that were enacted last year to save income-tax payers from much higher bills -- and by then piling a 5 percent surcharge on the high payments.
Council hearings are scheduled to begin next week. Mr. Wilson and his colleagues managed last year to perform an important legislative service by not swallowing Mayor Barry's windfall math. The same wind is blowing again, and the challenge to the council is back as well.