With the District of Columbia facing a nearly $200 million budget deficit, city hall is receiving lots of advice about how to close the gap. Commentator and longtime District resident Barbara Kagan has a suggestion that might be surprising:
I've lived in D.C. for over 30 years. I'm fortunate that, over these years, my family income has gone up. My quality of life has gone up. And now, as D.C. faces an unprecedented fiscal crisis that puts our city at risk, I want my taxes to go up too.
I am one of the District's high-income earners, one of the thousands of professionals with a household income of more than $200,000 a year. A moderate increase in my taxes is no more than a daily cup of coffee. But it will mean a lot more to this city.
Right now, the District faces a $185 million budget shortfall. Risking funding for programs crucial to continued progress in the city: education reform, public transportation, innovative housing strategies to name a few. The recession has led to a major drop in savings and investment income -- and a major increase in unemployment, which has more than doubled in the last three years in the District. All of this has contributed to a drop in tax collections, making it difficult for the city to pay its bills. At the same time, the financial crisis has greatly increased the number of struggling families looking to the D.C. government for help.
More belt-tightening isn't the answer. Over the last three years, the city has made so many cuts that this year D.C. will spend -- adjusted for inflation -- $600 million less than in 2008.
Further cuts would cause great harm. Even well-heeled residents will be affected by a decline in those qualities that make them want to live in the city.
Right now, I pay the same tax rate as someone who earns just $40,000 a year, the city's top tax rate. So someone earning $400,000, or even $4 million, pays the same rate. And high earners pay a lot less as a percentage of income: about 7 percent compared with 10.5 percent for someone earning $45,000 a year.
As D.C. struggles, we have to either do our fair share to keep D.C. moving forward and continue to be able to enjoy all that the city has to offer, or we can simply watch it slip away with a few more dollars in our pockets. The quality of life of upper-income residents of the city cannot in the long run be sustained while so many others struggle to maintain the basic necessities, like food, housing and medical care.
Who wants to sell their house, leave their neighborhood, and move to the suburbs for what amounts to a grande latte a day at Starbucks?
Mayor-elect Gray and Chairman-elect Kwame Brown, I ask you to support a proposal to raise income taxes on people like me.