The Washington Examiner's Alan Blinder reported Sunday that D.C. politicians are counting their $190 million in chickens before they've even hatched. The District hasn't even finished collecting its unexpected windfall, yet the money is already burning a hole in local politicians' pockets.
Councilman David Catania wants to boost school funding, which may be a worthy idea. Mayor Vincent Gray has spoken of dedicating a large sum to affordable housing. Ward 7 Councilwoman Yvette Alexander probably had the worst idea -- to splurge on federal lobbyists who can press the District's case for statehood with Congress. And Ward 8 Councilman Marion Barry just wants to go on a government spending spree. "I'm not going to put one cent of money in the reserve, he said. "I want to use every dime on people."
We agree with Barry on one thing -- the money should all be used on people. And that is exactly what will happen if it is saved now for the hard times that nearly everyone sees coming. You may have heard something recently about federal cutbacks -- both the immediate ones attributable to sequestration and the long-term ones that could result from the government's multitrillion-dollar entitlement crisis. Given the bleak outlook at the federal level, the District's savings may be needed sooner than anyone expects just to maintain the current level of basic services like policing, firefighting, garbage collection, schools and road maintenance. These could soon be much harder to pay for if this year's cash windfall isn't used prudently.
Sequestration's national impact has been exaggerated, but its effect on the Washington area and in the District itself could be very significant. Any reduction in local incomes or property values will affect the District's tax base and the District government's ability to provide necessary services. In the longer run, if the entitlement crisis forces the federal government to adopt true austerity measures -- deep cuts that would make sequestration look like a cakewalk -- then the city at the seat of the federal government will be hit hardest.
At the very least, District leaders should wait to see how sequestration pans out. It would be a shame if the District, in its time of plenty, were to behave as irresponsibly as Fairfax County did last decade and end up being forced to raise taxes later on a shrinking base just to pay for basic, essential services.