The John A. Wilson Building in Washington, D.C.
The John A. Wilson Building. Credit: Darrow Montgomery/FILE

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The D.C. Council voted 8-5 to support a tax increase for individuals who earn $250,000 or more a year. The estimated $100 million in revenue will fund early childhood education from birth to age three, 2,400 housing vouchers, and a monthly basic income for certain families.

Councilmembers Brianne Nadeau (Ward 1), Janeese Lewis George (Ward 4), and Charles Allen (Ward 6) introduced the amendment to the District’s $17.5 billion budget today.

Lewis George and At-Large Councilmember Christina Henderson, the body’s two newest members, took office at the beginning of the year and voted in favor of the tax increase. They replaced former Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd and former At-Large Councilmember David Grosso, who voted against a similar proposal when it was introduced last year.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson led the opposition to the proposal, making his arguments known in his July newsletter and providing cover during Tuesday’s meeting for the other members who joined him in voting against it.

Those who oppose tax increases should not be cast as opposing the programs it funds, Mendelson said. He wagered that if he asked for a show of hands from members who do not support funding early childhood education, no one would raise their hands.

The primary argument from opponents was that the Council does not have a complete understanding of the amendment’s impact. A Tax Revision Commission approved last year has not yet begun its work.

Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh called the amendment “ad hoc” and said she could not vote for it because it was introduced at the 11th hour. Ward 2 Councilmember Brooke Pinto, who worked as a tax attorney in the Office of the Attorney General, echoed Cheh and wondered why the measure wasn’t introduced sooner so that it could have a full public hearing. Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie wondered whether a “wealth tax” would be more effective than raising income taxes. He worried that raising income taxes now would preclude more effective tax policy in the future.

Lewis George and other supporters responded to critics by highlighting the urgent need for more revenue. Lewis George described a vigil she attended for a man who died on the steps of Foundry United Methodist Church on 16th Street NW. She also noted the 43 other residents experiencing homelessness who died this year. Allen said the effect of the increase would only increase the tax bill for a person earning $300,000 per year by $375.

At-Large Councilmember Robert White drew a direct line between early childhood education and its potential to bring down crime. He cited a letter from Mayor Muriel Bowser in which she says she will approve police overtime to support “a strong, sustained police presence” to address chronic gun violence. White said the mayor’s “law-and-order” strategy has failed.

“We have to acknowledge the direct link between education, particularly early childhood education, and crime,” White said. “We have to invest urgently in Birth to Three. The problem is looking us dead in the face right now.”