UNFORTUNATELY, the idea that District taxes should be further increased next year appears to be gaining a following in the District Building. First council member John Wilson, head of the finance committee, and then council Chairman Arrington Dixon said the additional tax seemed inevitable. Even Mayor Barry, who promised that there would be no tax increase next year, now says a new tax has to be considered. The reason for his change of mind is that the city does not have the money to pay for cost-of-living increases for its workers or to begin repaying the debts it has built up over the years.
Precisely which taxes would be increased is not yet known. Possibilities include the property tax and sales taxes. These would have to be doubled to bring in the $215 million to $400 million that Mr. Wilson says is needed. If the money were raised by an increase in the income tax, that tax would have to be doubled. The trouble is that even if this were practical, the booming downtown development, which everyone is counting on to sustain the local tax base in the future, could be a prime victim: it would likely be stalled as the economics of development here became less attractive and those of the suburbs more attractive. Retail businesses in the city would be especially hard hit.
The labor unions are demanding more money for city workers, and the school board and parents are pointing at crowded classrooms as they too beg for more money. And it is likely that their demands will be used as a justification or scapegoat for any new taxes imposed. But the fact is that most of the money the city says it needs from the proposed new taxes is for debts incurred in the last fiscal year, debts that resulted from the current operating budget's being out of balance -- the city spends too much money. This problem has little to do with accounting procedures, the past sins of Congress or the claims of city employees or the schools. The problem is rooted in the failure to make hard but necessary decisions on eliminating some programs and services. Instead of considering raising taxes, Mayor Barry, Mr. Dixon and Mr. Wilson should be seeking more ways to reduce the size -- and the cost -- of the city government.