D.C. Council chairman orchestrates vote on major tax cut, draws ire of mayor

D.C. Council chairman orchestrates vote on major tax cut, draws ire of mayor

By Aaron C. Davis, Washington Post, Published: May 27

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson says he will attempt to do Wednesday what Mayor Vincent C. Gray failed to do in this year’s budget: ask the council to implement the largest package of tax cuts for District residents in 15 years.

The cuts would be phased in over five years, first softening the tax burden for low- and middle-income residents in January. Over ensuing years, tax cuts would expand to benefit every city resident earning up to $1 million annually and even those who inherit multi­million-dollar estates.

Mendelson’s plan amounts to an eleventh-hour attempt to implement an overhaul of District tax policy that was recommended by a commission led by former mayor Anthony A. Williams to increase competitiveness and make the city’s tax code more progressive.

But how Mendelson plans to fund the tax package drew immediate criticism from Gray, who chose to adopt only a fraction of the panel’s proposals, saying most would cost the city too much in revenue.

Under Mendelson’s plan, the District would significantly curtail funding for a promised citywide network of street­cars, including delaying until late in the term of the next mayor a plan to pay for an increasing share of the multi­billion-dollar project with cash.

Mendelson released a budget plan late Tuesday showing that he would continue to fund streetcars at a rate of $400 million over six years and said he is not trying to kill the street­car network. Rather, he cast the package of tax cuts as a fair way to return the District’s increasing wealth back to residents, as well as to spur further investment.

Mendelson also said he was reluctant to throw an ever-greater share of city money toward a street­car project that so far has repeatedly failed to live up to expectations. “There’s no way that a street­car to Takoma is going to be built in the next three years, and they ought to spend their time and attention completing H Street,” Mendelson said of the administration’s delays in opening the first leg of the light-rail line.

Gray spokesman Pedro Ribeiro blasted the chairman’s plan, saying that it would take money from a project designed to reduce traffic and increase the quality of life citywide.

“Highly ill-advised doesn’t go far enough,” Ribeiro said. “The chairman is talking about cutting taxes for the wealthiest individuals and funding it by cutting infrastructure that would benefit residents all across the District. . . . Clearly the city doesn’t need . . . tax cuts for millionaires.”

The two council members running for mayor, Democratic nominee Muriel Bowser (Ward 4) and independent David A. Catania (At Large), said they didn’t have enough information Tuesday night to comment.

The last-minute cut to street­car funding echoed a 2010 plan by Gray when he was council chairman that drew intense criticism. But Mendelson’s proposal was well-received Tuesday by advocates for the city’s poor and the chairwoman of the council’s transportation committee, which has oversight of the street­car project.

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