Greater Greater Washington

Breakfast links: Profits, nonprofits, and no profits


Photo by Walmart Stores on Flickr.
Walmart donates $3 million for jobs: Walmart so far will not sign a community benefits agreement, but is donating $3 million to job-training programs for DC residents. (City Paper)

DC earmarks live on: Despite the ban on earmarks, several DC councilmembers including Thomas, Alexander, and Graham used an "independent" nonprofit to steer city money to favored projects. (Post)

The postman rings less: Despite the fact that mail volume has plunged 20% in 4 years and the USPS runs a $8 billion deficit, many residents don't want their local post offices to close. (Informer) ... The Postal Service proposes cutting its workforce by 20%.

PG weighs trade off in road project: A Prince George's councilmember wants to stop overbuilding roads that create sprawl and induce even more traffic in the county's southern rural areas, but a proposed medical center may leapfrog to Calvert County without them. (Post)

NPS fixing erroneous roadwork: The Park Service has halted renovation along Rock Creek Parkway after a resident noted it violated a 2006 environmental assessment. $10,000 in work (with few specifics in the story) will have to be undone. (WTOP)

Road designation hinders services: Seven Sandy Spring residents cannot get utilities delivered close to their dwellings. Their homes are on an unofficial road on land that was part of a plantation where their ancestors were enslaved. (Examiner)

Gas tax will be next Congressional crisis: John Mica supports keeping the existing federal gas tax as is, but some Republicans want to block any extension, arguing that it does too much for subways in cities. (Streetsblog)

And...: A satirical critique of anti-gentrification arguments. (Atlantic) ... Maryland is automating traffic reports. (Post) ... An algae bloom on the Potomac is toxic. (TBD)

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Eric Fidler has lived in DC and suburban Maryland his entire life. He likes long walks along the Potomac and considers the L'Enfant Plan an elegant work of art. He also blogs at Left for LeDroit, LeDroit Park's (only) blog of record. 

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Why do things like the Post office and Amtrak (and other mass transit) get reported as running deficits or losing moeny, but DoD does not. You don't hear DoD runs a 1 trillion dollar deficit every year, you hear DoD's budget is 1 trillion dollars.

I think this makes a really significant difference as people don't see the Post Office or mass transit as a valid benefit/service the goverment is providing to the people, but rather see them as bad things that are losing money.

by nathaniel on Aug 12, 2011 9:08 am • linkreport

@nathanial: USPS and Amtrak are independent agencies, operated as their own businesses. Both have to report their earnings on a regular basis. Amtrak is literally a government-owned corporation, while USPS is almost that.

Plus, USPS is supposed to run on its own with no government subsidies.

Also, DOD doesn't have its own income, so its "deficit" would be the same as its expenditures.

by Tim on Aug 12, 2011 9:17 am • linkreport

Do I take the RCP issue to mean that the 2006 EA in some way prevented the creating of a better acceleration lane where Waterside Drive joins RCP? Because if so complaints about this kind of thing are how environmentalists get a bad name.

(I don't mean to start a debate about the various uses of RCP but that merge is fraught with danger).

by ah on Aug 12, 2011 9:24 am • linkreport

@Tim
I understand that, but my question is why. Why is it a bad thing when certain services provided by the government (whether local or federal)don't break even, but no one cares that others cost money as well? Make no mistake, the choice of the word deficit has a negative affect on how people view that service.

To make a more direct comparison, when talking about building new metro lines, you often hear about how the line will lose money every year and run a deficit, but when talking about roads you only hear about the cost to build it when that too is a deficit.

I think people need to stop talking about deficits and isntead look at if the cost of something is worth the benefit.

It seems to me providing door to door service 6 days a week to every single address in the US, 8 billion is a relatively cheap cost.

by nathaniel on Aug 12, 2011 9:31 am • linkreport

Nathanial: Because some are inherently government services (defense, taxation, etc.) and some are inherently commercial operations, but were provided by the government because of certain transient conditions or peccadilloes of powerful congressman (mail, transportation, etc).

You no more want a private army in the US than you want a public retail company. It just doesn't work well.

by eb on Aug 12, 2011 9:37 am • linkreport

@ah

"Environmental" assessments use a fairly comprehensive definition of the word 'environment.'

Typically, they consider factors such as noise, visual impact, traffic flow, overall project design, impact on surrounding communities, displacement of residents or demolition of historic structures, drainage/runoff, archaeological considerations at the site, pedestrian/vehicle safety, and ecology.

Generally speaking, environmental assessments exist to consider the overall impact of a given project. They're more about being a good neighbor to the surrounding community than they are about saving the whales.

$10k is not a lot of money in the context of a large construction project. Like...a seriously small amount. I wonder what the specific goof was. Did they paint the guardrail the wrong color, or install a storm drain where there shouldn't have been one?

Also, note that this is an example of Bill Line sounding reasonable and levelheaded. Take note, because this is a pretty rare phenomenon. I'm glad that the NPS is investing in maintaining the parkway, but I've gotta say that the repair/upgrade project has been at best an inconvenience, and at worst has occasionally made the road extremely dangerous to drive on.

by andrew on Aug 12, 2011 9:58 am • linkreport

@EB
Your answer doesn't make sense to me. The post office is the very definition of inherentally governmental as it was provided for in the Constitution (So were private armies through Letter of Marque).

Secondly how is rail any mor or less inherently governmental then roads.

I don't see either trains or post office as retail.

by nathaniel on Aug 12, 2011 10:00 am • linkreport

@ah

As I read it, the EA does not prevent the creating of a better acceleration lane where Waterside Drive joins RCP, but rather examines 3 options for widening RCP to allow for improved traffic flow. The report does, however, dismiss two of these options as having too significant an impact on the environment.

I'm not sure exactly what they were doing in RCP, but if it was not following the proposed solution (shifting RCP 6ft closer to the river for ~300ft, which would allow widening by almost 8ft for ~400ft and narrowing southbound lanes to 11ft) then they were ignoring their own EA.

by jcm on Aug 12, 2011 10:01 am • linkreport

Article 1 of the US Constitution, Section 8, clause 7:

Congress shall have the power to establish Post Offices and Post roads

by Andrew on Aug 12, 2011 10:01 am • linkreport

By the way, the 2006 RCP EA can be found here:

http://parkplanning.nps.gov/document.cfm?parkID=198&projectID=14919&documentID=13979

by jcm on Aug 12, 2011 10:03 am • linkreport

Further to my point above, I don't have problems if you want to say building the outer beltway will run a deficit of X billion dollars. I just have trouble a problem when you say mass transit runs deficit but roads don't. Talk about them the same way.

by nathainel on Aug 12, 2011 10:03 am • linkreport

Here's an example of what David Alpert was talking about yesterday.

If Metro had done what the Park Service just did, what would we be reading on certain websites? And no one will say that the Park Service is one of GGW's favorite organizations.

by Ben Ross on Aug 12, 2011 10:05 am • linkreport

RE: Gas Tax

States should get legislation ready which would raise the State gas tax equal (or more) to the Fed gas tax should the Feds let it expire, perhaps w/ a sunset clause directly automatically set so if a Fed gas tax returns: the State tax reduces accordingly.

On the subject in a more general sense-

I'm fine w/ having transit pay its fair share. ...if roads do, too. :)

by Bossi on Aug 12, 2011 10:13 am • linkreport

Having recently moved here from Europe, the mail situation here in the US always strikes me as anachronistic. In Holland (and all over Europe) the Postal Service has been privatized, including the post offices. As a result, all post offices have been closed, and instead the postal service has opened 'service counters' in supermarkets and neighborhood stores, similar to the 'Village Post Offices' in the article. Those stores welcome these service counters, as they bring people into the store.

As a result, customers now have more places where they can take care of their mail, and these places generally have more flexible opening hours than the old state-run postal offices. The Village Post Offices would be a win-win situation for everyone involved.

by Max on Aug 12, 2011 10:15 am • linkreport

And no one will say that the Park Service is one of GGW's favorite organizations.
------------------------------

Neither are roads. Rah rah rah.

The Post story is interesting, epsecially the slush fund line.

by greent on Aug 12, 2011 10:21 am • linkreport

I don't think Dems should allow the tea party to have any leverage with the gas tax issue. If they want to eliminate the gas tax, call their bluff. In a post-apocalyptic transportation world of crumbling transportation infrastructure, liveable communities where people get around by walking and biking will do just fine.

Similarly, if the tea party wants the post office to eliminate postal service to rural areas to save some money, I say let them do that. After all, those are the people who voted the tea party folks into Congress in the first place.

Granted, I'm being a little flippant here but sometimes you've got to convince everyone that you're the craziest guy in the room to get an upper hand in negotiations.

by Falls Church on Aug 12, 2011 11:08 am • linkreport

America has decided to subsidize a vast number of ways of life through a wide variety of government programs, so I don't see what the objection to "subsidization" is in principle, unless you want private everything. (USPS does need to reinvent itself, I agree)

See: http://boingboing.net/2011/07/08/half-of-us-social-pr.html

by EJ on Aug 12, 2011 11:25 am • linkreport

@Falls Church: you've got to convince everyone that you're the craziest guy in the room to get an upper hand in negotiations.

I wonder if you are married.

Because you have shown yourself to be unreasonable, brinkmanship is how you get excluded from the discussion when the time comes to actually do the deal.

by goldfish on Aug 12, 2011 11:52 am • linkreport

Postal delivery is not an inherent government function. Encouraging and permitting the free flow of communication is, but a "post office" is not. It was a particular service that governments provided past centuries because it was not profitable for anyone else to do so, and the benefits were very clear.

Today, we have at least three highly profitable companies that do the same or similar work and we have a technological leap (email/internet) that renders most "postal functions" obsolete. (You could eliminate physical delivery of mail completely and still meet the constitutional requirements if you really wanted to.)

As to armies, national defense is an "inherent government function". The government can and does at times hire private armies to carry out specific functions, but in general almost every nation in the world relies primarily on a public military*.

*Feel free to list the countries that don't have a public military.

by eb on Aug 12, 2011 1:25 pm • linkreport

On the woes of the USPS, i.e., the money-losing government postal monopoly, Lysander Spooner is finally getting his revenge, 150+ years later.

by Paul on Aug 12, 2011 4:57 pm • linkreport

@falls church, HERE HERE!

by HogWash on Aug 12, 2011 5:13 pm • linkreport

Good luck trying to send a postcard to friends for 29 cents when the evil postal monopoly is gone and we're left with UPS and FedEx only.

by MLD on Aug 12, 2011 5:25 pm • linkreport

@MLD: that is always a concern over privatization ain't it.

And what happens when the private companies decide that snailmail is no longer profitable and do away with their services?

What agency will regulate Zip Codes? Google?

by greent on Aug 12, 2011 5:57 pm • linkreport

I wonder if you are married.

Because you have shown yourself to be unreasonable, brinkmanship is how you get excluded from the discussion when the time comes to actually do the deal.

Well, that wasn't the case in the debt ceiling debate. The craziest people in the room got most of what they wanted because they convinced everyone that if we didn't do as they pleased, they would detonate the bomb strapped to their chest and destroy us all.

The problem with Democrats is that they negotiate like they're dealing with a good faith counterparty like their wife when in fact, their counterparty is a shark who's looking to make a fool of them.

by Falls Church on Aug 12, 2011 7:46 pm • linkreport

@Falls Church: You were involved with the Federal budget negotiations? Wow, why are you wasting your time here?

by goldfish on Aug 13, 2011 7:44 am • linkreport

FYI -- I'm the local resident who pointed out to NPS that they weren't following their EA about Rock Creek.

I figured they'd probably ignore the email, or at best, add a little remediation afterwards, to make up for what they were in the midst of doing. I never dreamed they'd shut everything down and re-start the EA / public-comment process, and I'm not even sure that's a good outcome.

What would have been really helpful, was if they had put the construction plans on-line, along with the EA. Then the problems (including some separate problems with a bike spur at Cathedral Ave) could have been spotted by local residents like me, *before* construction got underway. It's the same as open-source software -- bugs are easier to spot with more eyeballs looking at the code.

by RCP Local on Aug 14, 2011 11:21 pm • linkreport

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