Compromise rarely elicits unbridled enthusiasm. That’s no revelation. Compromise, after all, means no one got exactly what they wanted.
But the city budget accord announced Jan. 7 by Mayor Ballard and City-County Council leaders is worth at least some polite applause because it reminds us that political opponents really are capable of working together for the common good.
It’s a timely reminder. The political dysfunction in Washington is worrisome, causing us to wonder when—or if—cooler heads will prevail. Our state legislators haven’t given us much confidence, either, in recent years. One side disappears entirely, and members of the other side file fringe bills designed to impose their social will on the rest of us. Maybe this year will be better.
Meanwhile, Republican Mayor Greg Ballard and Democratic City-County Council President Maggie Lewis and their allies were able to find a way around the city’s budget impasse.
They’ve agreed to work together to reduce spending 5 percent across city departments, for a total savings of $30 million. And they’ve signed off on a plan that will raise the county rental car tax from 4 percent to 6 percent and the admissions tax on tickets to most events at city-controlled sports and entertainment venues to 10 percent. Meanwhile, the Capital Improvement Board, which owns and/or operates those facilities, will pay the city $5 million for public safety at its venues, not the $15 million Council Democrats wanted.
Both sides also agreed to a bipartisan review of the homestead tax credit that will almost certainly result in its elimination. The credit saves property owners an average of $20 to $24 a year on property taxes, but it costs the city millions. (It’s separate from and less significant to taxpayers than the homestead tax deduction.)
The overall agreement works out to roughly $2 in spending cuts for every $1 of new revenue. Most of the measures require sign-off by the City-County Council, but with the endorsement of leadership in both parties, that should come relatively easily, possibly as soon as the end of this month.
None of this is feel-good stuff. Just ask the car rental companies who bristle at the thought of having to tax their customers more. But those entrusted with the city’s finances understand difficult steps must be taken. So far, they seem willing to share credit for the result and blame for the unpopular measures that got us there. That’s the way government is supposed to work.•
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