By Daniel Michelson-Horowitz, Lane Evans Home Court Fellow at Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless

Rotary TelephoneMy name is Daniel Michelson-Horowitz, and I am a Lane Evans Home Court Fellow. As a first-year law student at Georgetown, I am working with WLCH Executive Director Patty Mullahy Fugere to build a coalition of non-profits, social services agencies and community members who are concerned that the current budget crisis will mean severe cuts to the health, education, housing, and food security programs on which our city’s neediest residents depend. Together, we have formed Invest in DC, a diverse coalition that is encouraging Mayor Gray and the City Council to generate new revenue through progressive tax reforms, rather than further cutting already-strained services. I am enjoying this opportunity to connect with agencies across the city and make a real difference for the thousands of families that depend on the services they provide.

At stake for the Legal Clinic’s clients are such vital, life-sustaining programs as Interim Disability Assistance (IDA), Emergency Rental Assistance (ERAP) and homeless services. Department of Human Services officials have acknowledged the very real possibility that, because of fiscal constraints, no new families will receive a shelter placement between now and next hypothermia season.

Invest in DC has a long campaign ahead, and we are working to give our coalition members the tools to influence the debate. We expect that Mayor Gray will send his budget proposal for FY 2012 to the DC Council on April 1, which means we need to put pressure on him over the next few weeks to consider tax reforms. This starts with a broad grassroots network of concerned residents and social service providers who are calling the Mayor to let him know that tax increases are the only way to solve our city’s fiscal woes without putting the burden disproportionately on those who can least bear it. Today, March 22nd, please call the Mayor at (202) 442-8150 to let him know that, as a District resident, you are willing to contribute your fair share of taxes so that, in this time of great economic uncertainty, the social services that protect vulnerable families can continue to reach those who need them.

In addition, we are reaching out to the Mayor to present our list of ideas for progressive reforms, and to remind him that he cannot continue to cut social service programs. Our friends at Save Our Safety Net – DC! have organized a lunch event this Friday, March 25th, at the Mayor’s office. Please come to the Wilson Building at 1350 Pennsylvania Ave. NW at 1pm to ask Mayor Gray to “take the safety net off the lunch table.” We will present “a menu of progressive taxation” to the Mayor, and we look forward to seeing you there!

I am proud to be a Lane Evans Home Court Fellow and to work with Patty and the rest of the WLCH staff to ensure that agencies like the Clinic can continue to provide services in DC. Here is more information about Invest in DC:

The most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression continues to hit DC residents hard. Although the economy has started to recover, unemployment remains at a historically high level, and the recession has walloped the savings and investment income for many. These factors helped cause the serious revenue shortfall the District continues to face. Even with a recent promising revenue forecast, DC tax collections are hundreds of millions lower than before the recession (in inflation-adjusted dollars). This has put at risk funds for schools, police officers and health and human services.

The District’s response has been deep cuts to public services. These cuts — from libraries to child care to homeless services to public safety — jeopardize the District’s ability to recover and to invest in a prosperous future. Last summer, Vince Gray expressed his concern with the extent of the cuts: “We have not only cut to the bone, we are down to the bone marrow.” Since that time, an additional $30 million has been cut from programs that impact low income residents in the fall gap-closing.

Now is the time to Invest in DC to keep our city moving forward and keep families economically secure in uncertain times. We can only do this if we take a balanced approach that includes new revenue. A cuts-only approach would hurt important investments the city has made in schools, libraries, recreation centers, and health care. And it would devastate the city’s ability to address the sharp increase in child poverty in DC.
Elected leaders should raise $150 million in new progressive revenue to invest in programs DC residents value. This would address about half of DC’s current budget shortfall and would help protect important investments in DC’s residents and neighborhoods.

• Increasing the income tax rate on the wealthiest. DC residents earning $40,000 pay the same marginal tax rate as those making $1 million. A majority of the new revenue could come from progressive tax brackets that affect DC’s higher income residents.

• Ending DC’s tax exemption for interest paid on out-of-state bonds. Only DC and Indiana provide income tax breaks for residents that invest in other states’ infrastructure. Eliminating this exemption would raise needed revenue and help give District residents an incentive to invest in DC’s roads and bridges, rather than in other states’ projects.

• Increasing taxes on parking. The tax rate for DC parking lots is lower than in many major cities. An increase would fall substantially on commuters and tourists, and it could encourage use of public transit.

The District’s future is in the balance. We need to meet people’s needs today and invest in a secure tomorrow.

For more information or to get involved in this important campaign, please contact Patty at the Legal Clinic, at 202 328-5504 or