Date: May 30, 2017

Statement from Councilmember White Opposing Two Amendments that Propose Major Changes to the Tax Code

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I can understand why it would sound appealing to many of our constituents to delay the planned tax cuts. Repairing public housing, increasing rental assistance, accelerating school modernization, rightsizing per pupil funding, implementing the NEAR Act, expanding TANF, implementing Paid Family Leave, supporting returning citizens, and back-filling potential cuts in federal funding – are just some of the vital social programs we have prioritized and want to fund. Building and maintaining these and other social programs requires a strong and balanced economy because when we lose revenue, we are forced to cut these programs.
In a $14 billion dollar city budget, we have the resources to address these and even the other, less sexy, needs of the city. But doing so requires that we make hard and strategic budgeting decisions on the front end and are prudent with our finances. Since the Tax Revision Commission completed its work three years ago, our city has benefited from extraordinary growth that continues to this day. That growth has led to skyrocketing tax revenues - resulting in a budget for our government that is $1.1 billion more than it was just three years ago when the Council passed the tax revision package. That suggests that we are doing something right.
As we evaluate this amendment, we should consider that strong urban economies sometimes crumble when they do not or cannot do advanced planning, devastating their low-income residents – places like Baltimore, Pittsburgh, or Detroit. We cannot take where we are for granted because doing so puts the very vulnerable residents we are talking about protecting at severe risk. They are the ones who cannot just pick up and move when an economy goes south. In fact, we have seen that happen before right here in the District of Columbia. So, we have to calculate 5, 10, 20 years ahead when we will still need to build and maintain these social programs.
Three years ago, this Council approved the most progressive tax structure in the country. It took up these proposals only after work and agreement from a former Mayor, professors, CEOs, tax advocates for low income residents, the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, tax experts, attorneys, and the Office of the Chief Financial Officer. In doing so, we accomplished something miraculous, creating a model to both lower taxes for low and moderate income residents and to bring in strong revenues for social programs at the same time. This is a tremendous accomplishment.
Since that time, our economy has soared, with revenue estimates through 2020 increasing by $1.5 billion. That is $1.5 billion more for schools, TANF, public housing, and returning citizens. In fact, our budget has increased $400 million just since last year’s budget.
Now, though, we are debating amendments to that plan, in order to have a few million more dollars to spend this year. These amendments will result in approximately $30 million or a 0.22% increase in next year’s budget- less than one quarter of one percent. One quarter of one percent divided between repairing public housing, increasing rental assistance, accelerating school modernization, rightsizing per pupil funding, implementing the NEAR Act, expanding TANF, implementing Paid Family Leave, supporting returning citizens, and back-filling potential cuts in Federal funding is not enough to solve any of those problems.
But it will have an impact. It will broadcast to our constituents that our word means nothing and that we are not capable of making strategic decisions to use a $14 billion budget to address our critical needs.
We bring in taxes from businesses and residents that we use to fund social programs and schools. The wager this amendment makes is that no businesses or high taxed residents will leave as a result of this change in the tax structure, and that, therefore, it will have no effect on future revenues. That is not a reasonable wager. Risking the stability of a $14 billion budget that is growing by hundreds of millions of dollars a year and all of the social programs it supports is not worth a 0.22% gamble that may or may not work in our favor.
So, we come back to my overarching point. There simply is no way around the need to make hard, strategic budgeting decisions on the front end.
Some of my friends on the Council and in the advocacy community genuinely believe that changing our tax law will help our schools and those in need. I respect their position and I know without a doubt that they are advocating for what they believe is best for our city. But on this one, I think they are wrong. And while the benefit of them being correct is negligible, the cost of them being wrong could be devastating. It simply is not worth the risk. 
I have spent every bit of political capital I have as a new member to help those being left behind in this city. So my priorities here should be crystal clear. But, while voting to repeal part of the tax structure that this Council approved three years ago comes with virtually no political risk for me, I could not in full integrity vote to support it because of how many social programs it puts at risk. Sometimes the decisions we have to make aren’t fun. But we have an obligation to do what is best for the city, and that includes the future of the city. The flaw here is not in our tax structure, it’s how we prioritize our funding.
The Office of At-Large Councilmember Robert C. White, Jr. | 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Suite 107, Washington, DC 20004

Contact: Daniel Wise, Communications & Outreach Specialist (202) 256-7154