At a mid-year briefing on the FY '85 budget, I noted that revenues were $41.5 million greater than the mayor had originally predicted and repeated my concerns, noted 14 months ago, that not all of the $44.5 million tax increase the mayor had requested for that budget or all of the $32.5 million increase he got was needed. I then raised questions about three possible tax-relief propositions: a $25 rebate, expanding the homeowner exemption and exempting nonexpensive clothing from the sales tax. Asked after the hearing if I was going to propose the $25 rebate, I declined to say yes but said it was an idea worthy of consideration.
In its editorial "Chairman Clarke the Fussbudget" (May 9), The Post elevated the rebate question to the level of a "proposal" and took me to task for it. That's fine. My question became something of a balloon, and sometimes balloons get shot down.
The Post went further to defend both the mayor's cash management and tax policy, mixing the two up at every opportunity. There is, however, a difference between cash management and tax policy. I have never criticized the mayor for managing our funds so that we do not spend more than we raise, but I have had a word or two to say about whether we raise more than we need. But, if The Post wants to disagree with me about tax policy, that is fine too.
However, two personal comments, charging me with "financial nitpicking" and "political grandstanding," warrant response. I have tried to think of something to say that The Post might respect, and several thoughts have come to mind.
As to the nitpicking, The Post points to the smallness of the $41.5 million surplus "relative" to the budget. Beyond the obvious fact that relativity to the budget is one thing and relativity to the taxpayer quite another, I could turn the issue around and say something like "the council may well find enough cuts to avoid any tax increases, since $44.2 million amounts to only about 2 percent of the total budget proposal." But those are the words of The Post itself, in an editorial entitled "Higher Taxes, Lower Expectations" (Feb. 4, 1984). That editorial, published at the time the mayor made his original proposal, spoke of a "tax- and-spending budget that has little in it to cheer about" and even foresaw the present surplus by noting that "long after that (council and congressional consideration of the proposal), be prepared for the mayor to orchestrate a few added financial surprises and/or delights not in the script."
Staying on the nitpicking point, I could note that I only opposed $8.1 million of the $32.5 million tax increase, but I would have to say that those members who opposed all increases at the time, and who are expressing similar skepticism now (though unchastised by The Post), "are raising good questions about the absolute necessity of tax increases." But, then again, that has already been said -- by The Post in an editorial entitled "D.C. Taxes: Huff and Bluff" (March 3, 1984).
The Post challenges my predictive capabilities and says I should shut up unless I "can pinoint projections more sharply than the city government has." To that I might respond with something like "the council has become sophisticated in retrieving and reading of numbers, and isn't fooled by any ups, downs and runarounds in fiscal exercises from the mayor's office" or that "council members have figured out . . . that there is another way to balance the budget: the mayor could have cut spending this year." But, alas, I would have to acknowledge the source. Who? You guessed it -- The Post in an editorial entitled "Taxes: Mr. Barry's Buck Passing" (June 23, 1984).
On the political grandstanding point, The Post notes my continuing commitment to employment, public housing, drug abuse and deficit retirement programs and implicitly questions my consistency. I could point out that the commitment is in fact a continuing one, evinced in motions made or supported before, during and after FY '85. I could point out that my motion to cut another $8.1 million from the FY '85 tax package would not have adversely affected any of these programs, that it would have reduced items that the "sophisticated retrieving and reading of numbers" showed to be overbudgeted, and that some of the reductions the mayor is now asking for in the supplemental are the same as I recommended in my motion.
I could also predict that the difference between what the executive revenue estimates were when it submitted the FY '85 budget and what they will be when the final financial report is in will be greater than $41.5 million and describe how the present uncertainty in actuarial forecasts of retirement costs is producing windfalls that can be ascribed to any of a number of fiscal years.
But, while such statements would show a consistency on my part, it would be best, given my earlier comments, to find some evidence of consistency in The Post's editorials on the subject and repeat that. Unfortunately, I can't find any.