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Liberal Policy Group Claims D.C. Residents Support Mayor’s Tax Hike

A poll conducted by a liberal policy group in the District of Columbia is claiming that 70 percent of residents in the city would like to see taxes raised on sales.

“The results are clear,” Wes Rivers, an analyst with the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, said in a press release. “DC residents would rather see investments in affordable housing and schools than save 25 cents on a $100 purchase.”

The results may not be as clear as Rivers claims, though, because the same survey found that 69 percent of those polled hadn’t even heard of the tax hike proposal.

It was only when offered this loaded question that residents said they would like to see a tax increase:

The sales tax increase was proposed to address a budget shortfall, and will help to support and enhance programs such as education, public safety, affordable housing, and homeless shelters. Having heard this, would you say you strongly favor, somewhat favor, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose the sales tax increase?

This question is problematic because it implies that the money raised from taxes would go directly to addressing the programs mentioned. That is not the case, though, as the tax money would simply be put in the general fund with no designated purpose.

Tom Lipinsky, spokesman for D.C. Councilman Jack Evans, said the wording of the question could certainly have had an effect on the way people answered.

“Everything we’ve heard from residents indicates that they don’t want the taxes to be raised,” he said. “Our opinion of the sales tax increase was not changed by the poll.”

During a budget mark-up May 13, Evans blocked Mayor Muriel Bowser’s proposal to raise the city’s sales tax from 5.75 percent to six percent, saying it was fiscally irresponsible to raise taxes to fund program increases.

“In this budget, our revenues are actually increasing by a healthy three or four percent. So, to increase a tax when you have revenue growth like that is not a responsible way to do a budget,” he said.

The sales tax actually has no connection to whether or not the city will fund a program. The money just ends up in city coffers and then spent where the council sees fit. If they want to fund the programs, they will find the money somewhere else.

“This idea of tying these taxes to a program is just rhetoric,” Evans said. “They say we’re increasing the sales tax $32 million to support housing, but there is no tie between the two other than to just say it.”

It is worth noting, too, that raising the sales tax would only bring in an estimated $22 million, which seems small compared to a budget of almost $13 billion.

Michael Czin, a spokesman Bowser, didn’t deny the lack of connection between the tax hike and funding for the programs, but said the tax increases were necessary.

“Raising the sales tax to be on par with our neighbors in Maryland and Northern Virginia to help fund investments to create affordable housing and end homelessness[, this] is something DC residents support,” Czin said in an email. “These are investments the district needs to make homelessness in the District rare, brief and non-recurring.”

Representatives from the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute did not respond to requests for comment.

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