Who is to blame for the current state of budget upheaval in District government over when/whether to implement a new tax on municipal bonds? Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh says all arrows point to Ward 6 Councilmartyr Tommy Wells.
Wells, you probably don’t recall, upset Council Chairman Kwame “Fully Loaded” Brown‘s plans to pass a tax on municipal bonds, then quickly get rid of said tax once higher revenue projections were announced. Thanks to a rare cut-on-the-dais deal with Councilmember Vincent Orange, Wells was able to keep the bond tax permanent with a 7-6 vote.
Plenty of people do not like said tax, so some councilmembers began looking at ways to ditch it. Before last month’s final legislative session, Cheh floated the idea of replacing the bond tax with an income tax increase on residents making $350,000-a-year or more. But Cheh never introduced the proposal, saying she knew it was a dead fish that didn’t have enough votes.
Only problem is, according to multiple council sources: Cheh did have enough votes to do it, and she knew it.
A couple of councilmembers say (privately) that Cheh wanted to introduce an amendment calling for a tax hike in order to mollify the social service advocates who were calling for increased taxes over cuts to social services. But Cheh never intended for her proposal to pass.
The problem with Cheh’s apparent plan was that the mayor, who supported an income tax increase on people making $200,000 or more, had his staff whip up enough votes to support Cheh’s proposal. That left Cheh little choice but to kill her own amendment before even introducing it.
“I was puzzled as to why the amendment was not moved because it appeared to have support of the majority of the council,” Gray wrote in a letter to the council today, essentially calling Cheh out. Gray just vetoed the budget proposal Cheh did introduce and get passed, which delays the implementation of the bond tax. Gray says he too, would rather see the income tax hike.
But Cheh says that version of events is not true. Cheh says the real reason she didn’t move her amendment last month was because she was afraid that a tax-happy councilmember or two may have tried to alter it to either include both an income tax hike and a bond tax, or tried to lower the threshold on the income tax hike.
“All sort of variations were being floated and it became untenable,” says Cheh.
She says she’s still prepared to swap the bond tax for an income tax increase on those making $350,000 or more, as long as she gets assurances from her colleagues that they won’t try any funny business.
Which brings us back to Wells. Cheh says it should be noted that we wouldn’t even still be talking about bond taxes if wasn’t for Wells and the stunt he pulled making the bond tax permanent. And she says his “shocking behavior” when he openly bargained with Orange was what led her to believe she couldn’t introduce her amendment without it being tampered with.
“What I saw with Tommy Wells, I found shocking,” Cheh says. “Now what I see with the pocket veto, I don’t know who I can rely on.”
But Wells will have none of it, saying Cheh’s accusations are “silly.”
“If they want to blame me for calling them on their game, I’m guilty, but the mayor called them out too,” says Wells.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery