WE ALL LIKE to think of our home town as being like no other town. If a recent poll of Washington residents by this newspaper is right, this town is, indeed, like no other. This is a town where most people would prefer a property tax increase to a reduction in city government services. To fully appreciate how far away that line of thinking is from the rest of the nation, one need only think of Proposition 13 or the winning presidential candidate's admonition against the excess of big government. But there is a reason for this uniquely Washingtonian attitude. Many of the people polled in this government town are government workers. Cuts in government mean fewer jobs for those people, their relatives and friends.
There's also a large population of poor people in this city, people who need government assistance. And there is the longtime perception, in the nation's capital, that the government will continue to prosper and provide, come what may. Well, the federal government, because of the recession, is not as rich as it might be, which means that the District government is not doing as well as it might, either. The city's workers, however, do not want excuses. They just want their government jobs left untouched by cutbacks.
Interestingly, 75 percent of this same group of city residents believe that the city government has not done well in dealing with its budget problem. But, as they said, they feel the answer is to be found in higher taxes. The craziness in this logic becomes apparent when Mayor Barry takes a trip to Baltimore, as he did earlier this week, and stands in awe of the harmony between city leaders and businessmen there.Could it be that Baltimore businessmen are more involved in their community because they are not scapegoated and asked to pay high taxes -- the District's taxes are among the highest in the nation -- to support an unnecessarily large city bureaucracy? Could it be that light industry, the sort that would fit in so nicely on underdeveloped land along New York Avenue, will not come here because of high taxes? Could it be that developers are encouraged to come to Baltimore, while in the District the city council harasses developers with laws that express the unsubstanatiated fear that the rich are taking over the city? Why is it that Baltimore has Harbor-place while the District's waterfront is, at best, a mess?
This city has the land to sell cheap, and, with a smaller government, it would have the tax breaks to hand out in an effort to draw business here. That is the only way that the large pool of unskilled young black people -- now largely unemployed -- will have a productive future in the district. To depend on the government to act as an employer of last resort is antiquated thinking. Mayor Barry's job, back in Washington, is to communicate that to the voters.