Greater Greater Washington

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Breakfast links: Bring in the dough


Photo by Sharon Drummond on Flickr.
Brown puts tax cuts first: DC's FY 2011 surplus now stands at $240 million. Kwame Brown wants to spend it on tax cuts, but Mayor Gray wants no such thing. (Examiner)

A stop sign for a suburban Walmart: Big box retailers moving into White Flint and other areas inspired three bills in the Montgomery County Council to require a more urban form, like some of DC's Walmarts. (WAMU)

PG's sprawling problem: Overly permissive approval of sprawl development projects and a lack of quality jobs and housing near Metro has Prince George's struggling to meet its own goals for revitalizing its inner-Beltway communities. (Examiner)

Will Metro get fixed?: Will Metro ever stop having all the disruptions like cracked rails? Probably not, but the frequency of problems will gradually decline over time (assuming current repairs are made properly). (Post)

Restoration used to be racist: In the 1940s, efforts to restore Capitol Hill had a definite racist tone, with many people pushing restoration of homes to keep white families in them and opposing public housing which mainly held black residents. (SINM)

No need to watch for bikes, peds in Virginia: A Virginia House subcommittee decided drivers shouldn't be required to use care not to hit pedestrians or cyclists. Republican Barbara Comstock of McLean led the vote to kill a bill set that standard. (FABB)

VA House may cut unions from Silver Line: Comstock also wants to ban agreements requiring union workers for government projects like the Silver Line. Sponsors say it's needed to control costs, while opponents say safety will suffer. (Examiner)

Transportation bill a speeding SUV: Highway lobbying groups are trying to ram the House transportation bill through, and it's on a speedy schedule, with multiple markups this week. The Chamber of Commerce is spending $50,000 on lobbying. (Streetsblog)

And...: Inside the world of taxicab "hack" inspectors. (Post) ... The Connecticut Avenue median will be extended 600 feet this spring. (DCMud) ... Costco breaks ground in Northeast DC. (City Paper)

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David Edmondson is a transportation and urban affairs enthusiast living in Mount Vernon Square. He blogs about Marin County, California, at The Greater Marin
David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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Jack Evans also wants the money back.

In terms of PG County, is the issue urbanism (lack of growth around metro stops) or just lack of growth. Same number of jobs as of 2000. Are there are growing businesses in PG County?

by charlie on Jan 31, 2012 9:47 am • linkreport

RE: Surplus and tax cuts

So let's see, Kwame and Jack Evans send a letter to the Mayor telling him not to spend that projected 2012 surplus, and then turn around and tell him to spend the current surplus on tax cuts? Do these guys pay attention to what they're saying from one day to the next?

by MLD on Jan 31, 2012 10:03 am • linkreport

@MLD "So let's see, Kwame and Jack Evans send a letter to the Mayor telling him not to spend that projected 2012 surplus, and then turn around and tell him to spend the current surplus on tax cuts?

Did you read what you wrote? hint ... a 'tax cut' = 'not spending'

What kind of convoluted political environment do will live in when appropriating less of our citizens' hard earned money is considered 'spending'?

by Lance on Jan 31, 2012 10:22 am • linkreport

@Lance

Cutting taxes is not the same as reducing spending. Cutting taxes is reducing revenue in perpetuity.

What happens next year when revenue is then down and you don't have the surplus? You have to cut government services. The contradiction is in acting like a paragon of fiscal responsibility on one hand (telling the mayor not to blow a surplus) and then bleeding the government of revenue on the other hand.

How about some fiscal responsibility where we save surplus for when revenue goes into the toilet due to continued/new/double-dip recessions and more people need government services?

by MLD on Jan 31, 2012 10:30 am • linkreport

Wait, so MLD, are you saying that the entire Republican party (i.e. Mittens, Newt, etc) is not fiscally responsible?! I'm shocked, SHOCKED!

by Shipsa01 on Jan 31, 2012 10:35 am • linkreport

@Lance

"when appropriating less of our citizens' hard earned money is considered 'spending"?

When the broken governing Council (legislature, Congress..whatever) also has no intention of reducing their spending.

I am "so" glad the tax increase on me was "so" needed.

In a related note, I have no idea how Natwar keeps his job. His office has seen scandal after scandal over the past decade, resulting in ~80 million in money stolen from right under his nose, and another hundred million in wasted money. Oh, and then there is the whole (the man can't make a reasonable revenue assumption to save his life) problem.

It is embarrasing to see the Council have to "knee jerk" react to Natwar's tales of doom and gloom every year, only to see 6 months later that he had no idea what he was talking about.

This has been happening for 11 years and while it was kinda comical during the days of budget surpluses, it is juvenile, embarrasing and damaging to the city, its people and programs to have it continue every year in down times.

by freely on Jan 31, 2012 10:35 am • linkreport

@MLD Cutting taxes is not the same as reducing spending. Cutting taxes is reducing revenue in perpetuity.

What happens next year when revenue is then down and you don't have the surplus? You have to cut government services.

And what's wrong with that? In something like a 5 year period during the 2000s ... coinciding with a windfall for real estate transfer taxes ... the DC government's budget went up something like 50%. Can you really make the case that something we were doing without before the money was there to be spent is now an essential that can't be done without ... even when the money (overall) really isn't there to be spent?

The taxpayers shouldn't be viewed as ATM machines for a bloated bureaucracy.

by Lance on Jan 31, 2012 10:49 am • linkreport

The taxpayers shouldn't be viewed as ATM machines for a bloated bureaucracy.

There is no such thing as "the taxpayers". They're called citizens. They elect representation, and their representatives decide how much the citizens will contribute to the functioning of their government.

by oboe on Jan 31, 2012 10:54 am • linkreport

Hell has frozen over, or the Cubs won the world series.

I agree with Lance.

by William on Jan 31, 2012 10:54 am • linkreport

Re: No need to watch for bikes, peds in Virginia ....

That Va. House bill didn't really do anything. It didn't provide any penalties for failure to pay attention to riders, children, or "any obviously confused, incapacitated, or intoxicated person on the highways." Good luck establishing that in a prosecution.

Virginia really needs to look at something more substantive, such as modifying the laws on contributory negligence, which hold that if a cyclist in a car-bike accident is even 1% negligent, the rider is out of luck with regards to liability.

Re: Lance. I like Lance. I don't agree with about 90% of what he writes, but I do admire his steadfast ability to tangle with us. Opposing viewpoints are helpful. And you have to admire lines like "taxpayers shouldn't be viewed as ATM machines for a bloated bureaucracy."

by Jack Love on Jan 31, 2012 11:06 am • linkreport

Bureaucrats shouldn't be viewed as ATM machines for bloated taxpayers.

by Lean Bureaucrat on Jan 31, 2012 11:09 am • linkreport

@There is no such thing as "the taxpayers". They're called citizens.

Now come on O'...you know we rarely if at all refer to ourselves as "citizens."

I can't even recall an instance (especially here) where we discuss how the gov't uses/wastes/abuses our "citizen" dollars.

by HogWash on Jan 31, 2012 11:10 am • linkreport

Applause for the VA. HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE for having the common sense to REJECT such a stupid and ill-conceived bill. It's comical that alleged bike advocacy groups think you can legislate this type of safety. It's also amazing they know so little about human nature and life.

Drivers DO NOT, in Virginia or elsewhere, set out behind the wheel to collide with a biker any more than the opposite is true. Normal courtesy usually takes care of the issue. I say this as an avid biker of more than three decades.

After all there is NOT news every morning on our TV's, newspapers or i-Pads about hundreds of bikers being hit by careless drivers. Smart move Virginia...saying no to social tinkering in the name of common sense.

by Pelham1861 on Jan 31, 2012 11:32 am • linkreport

There is no such thing as "the taxpayers". They're called citizens. They elect representation, and their representatives decide how much the citizens will contribute to the functioning of their government.

I think in this instance, taxpayers is the right term. Many citizens don't pay the taxes used to create this surplus. Lance's point, I think, is that if you don't need the revenue raised, you should return it to the people who paid it in the first place. In this case, that's not the citizenry at large, but taxpayers.

Having said that, MLD's point is well taken - a surplus is a good thing - then knee-jerk reaction to zero out the government's books when there's a surplus is bad long-term planning.

I also agree with freely's point about Natwar - how does he keep his job?

by dcd on Jan 31, 2012 11:34 am • linkreport

you have to admire lines like "taxpayers shouldn't be viewed as ATM machines for a bloated...

Speaking of bloat, I present you the "Automatic Teller Machine Machine."

-- Citizen first, a "taxpayer" third and a "customer" fifteenth.

by Matt C. on Jan 31, 2012 11:35 am • linkreport

isn't Dr. Gandhi's job protected by Congress? That is, the Mayor/council can't fire him -- only Congress can.

by charlie on Jan 31, 2012 12:00 pm • linkreport

I think in this instance, taxpayers is the right term. Many citizens don't pay the taxes used to create this surplus. Lance's point, I think, is that if you don't need the revenue raised, you should return it to the people who paid it in the first place. In this case, that's not the citizenry at large, but taxpayers.

I disagree. Anyone who buys anything pays taxes. Anyone who gets a paycheck pays taxes. We've made the decision collectively, as a society of voters, to exempt certain folks from paying income taxes.

I just reject the reactionary mindset that has been so successful as framing this as "government" taking "what's mine" and now it's only fair to "give it back."

It's the reason we're unable to have an adult fiscal policy in this country. You can't run a surplus in good times because "it's only fair to give me my money back". But we can run the Hell out of a deficit during bad.

by oboe on Jan 31, 2012 12:30 pm • linkreport

Kudos to the Virginia House of Delegates, and their move to put the brakes on MWAA's end-run around Virginia's Right-to-Work laws.

by Paulus on Jan 31, 2012 12:39 pm • linkreport

If the "taxpayers" want DC to "give the money back", they should get it back in the form of infrastructure improvements. We all know that we're heavily lacking in that department.

$240 million would buy a lot of bike lanes/paths, bikeshare stations, Metro repairs, pavement repairs, finishing the 11th St Bridge project, improved interchanges along Kenilworth, etc etc...

by Froggie on Jan 31, 2012 12:43 pm • linkreport

..maybe the surplus can be given to grocery stores to buy plastic bags so the life-altering experience of getting a "free" bag at checkout is restored..

by Tina on Jan 31, 2012 12:48 pm • linkreport

Oboe hits the nail on the head as usual. "Taxpayers" is everyone, there isn't anybody in this city who doesn't pay taxes.

Not to mention the fact that using the surplus to walk back the income tax increase is stupid because only 36% of the surplus came from increased taxes (and that's taxes across the board, not just income taxes).

by MLD on Jan 31, 2012 12:50 pm • linkreport

I think a tax reduction is an important thing for the District to keep gaining residents. Nothing too drastic, more on principle than anything else.

by H Street Landlord on Jan 31, 2012 1:21 pm • linkreport

@MLD,

That is a little short sighted. There are tons of people (adults) in this town who don't pay taxes at all whether they shop of not.

DC has an enormous unemployed block of folk who get housing, medical, food, baby sitting services etc.

Some generationally unemployed bloke walking into a store and buying a coke with the money he got from DC (i.e., other taxpayers) a week before isn't "paying taxes" at all. It was never his/hers money to begin with.

The entire city knew the tax increase was a joke. The Council announced the 40 million dollar surplus days before voting on the tax increase so the actual "need" of the increase was fanciful to begin with, but fear not...I don't expect they will return the aforementioned unneeded funds to me.

by freely on Jan 31, 2012 2:18 pm • linkreport

Jack Love, Pelhalm

The reason for the law is to make it possible for the driver to be found at fault if they hit a ped/bike in a ace other than in a crosswalk. Read the comments section of the FABB link for a more detailed legal explanation. VA is only 1 of 5 states not to have this legal protection for peds/bikes.

by Falls Church on Jan 31, 2012 3:58 pm • linkreport

@paulus
If Virginia stays Republican, I suspect that Metro rail will be broken into two separate operations.

One unionized, DC-Maryland piece, and one non-union piece serving Virginia, with some minimal service into DC. Could be implemented by the separation of Orange and Blue lines in downtown DC, with all lines configured so that both ends serve Virginia or Maryland.

by Patrickj on Jan 31, 2012 8:12 pm • linkreport

As an avid spandex-wearing cyclist with thousands of miles on his road bike, I don't need a new law telling drivers to avoid hitting cyclists and pedestrians. Do they think cars are hitting people on purpose!? There are already mechanisms out there that encourage cars not to run people over like existing laws against injuring people and murder, auto insurance and religion. Waste of time and does nothing to improve actual pedestrian safety. How about mandating European style bike lanes separated from cars? Adding bike lights? Ticketing cyclists that run red lights and stop signs. Helmet laws? Fix potholes? New bike trails?

by jinushaun on Feb 1, 2012 12:20 am • linkreport

@oboe: Citizens have the right to vote, while taxpayers are obligated to pay taxes. Citizens lobby their representatives to reduce the taxes that they, as taxpayers, pay. All citizens are taxpayers, but not all taxpayers are citizens.

I disagree that this silly trick of semantics has anything to do with "an adult" fiscal policy -- the voters (i.e., citizens) are adults and are familiar with the implications of the government debt -- even you.

by goldfish on Feb 1, 2012 12:59 am • linkreport

@goldfish: You can pay taxes without being a citizen. My family was doing it for decades before we became naturalised citizens and got voting power.

by jinushaun on Feb 1, 2012 10:06 am • linkreport

Instead of a tax cut, how about paying off some of the debt instead. That way you reduce your interest bill and leave some slack against any revenue falls.

by Rational Plan on Feb 1, 2012 12:33 pm • linkreport

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