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Breakfast links: Keep it


Photo by Jake Wasdin on Flickr.
Save or spend?: DC is expecting a $400 million budget surplus this year. Should they save it in anticipation of Federal government cutbacks or spend it? (Examiner)

Condo bike storage: Can a condo in DC ban bikes from a parking garage and then charge for storage? The City Paper thinks so, but WashCycle thinks the condo might be running afoul of zoning.

Trump won't get tax break: DC officials won't give Donald Trump a tax break for the Old Post Office. They say since Trump got the property in competitive bidding, he shouldn't get special treatment now. (Post)

Cars in DC: Cars take up too much space in DC, particularly since the city wasn't really designed for them. Public transit is much more efficient in terms of space. (RPUS)

Virginia schools in flux: With Virginia growing so fast, school boundaries keep changing, which affect kids and even the value of parents' houses. (Post)

Ride in your car and on a train: One inventor has come up with a commuter train that ferries cars into cities. Does it have any merit or does it just combine the inconvenience of a mass transit schedule with the person density of cars? (Atlantic Cities, Michael P.)

And...: Howard Town Center will have will have 445 apartments and a grocery store. (Borderstan) ... Even Ken Cuccinelli thinks breaking up electoral votes by congressional district is a bad idea. (Slate) ... Maryland's Dream Act has a loophole. (Post)

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Steven Yates grew up in Indiana before moving to DC in 2002 to attend college at American University. He currently lives in Southwest DC.  

Comments

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IF the council wants to prove they have some fiscal discipline, they will not spend the money. IF the council wants to be able credibly to claim they will not use new tax revenues to added spending, they will not spend the money.

Which means the council will spend the money on pet programs for each of the members.

by ah on Jan 28, 2013 8:51 am • linkreport

I think "Can a condo in DC ban bikes from a parking garage and then change for storage?" is supposed to be "charge"...

by dc denizen on Jan 28, 2013 9:01 am • linkreport

I'd guess the howard town center kills the plan to put a harris teeter in two blocks away?

by charlie on Jan 28, 2013 9:02 am • linkreport

Despite the really good treatise from Richard Layman, the parochial and myopic opinions of the vocal residents in ward 3 trump rational thought. It is too bad because I would imagine that business owners (other than Middle C Music which overtly opposed The Bond even though they don't provide parking for their customers) would generally want more residents and foot traffic to support their bottom lines.

Similarly, I would think many existing residents would want more "there" to walk to.

by William on Jan 28, 2013 9:10 am • linkreport

RE: Car "ferry" commuter train
Another terrible idea from the "worst of both worlds" book. Or maybe the "I'm in my car at any cost" book.

There are actually very few commuter ferries out there that carry cars, and they only work because driving between points A and B isn't an option, or is a very poor alternative. I don't think this kind of rail service could ever work, since it goes along terrain that likely would have a competitive road route.

by MLD on Jan 28, 2013 9:36 am • linkreport

"Even Ken Cuccinelli thinks breaking up electoral votes by congressional district is a bad idea"

Democratic opposition is more contingent though.

I'm trying to find some commentary on electoral vote splits on GGW prior to this latest (now moribund) Republican proposal, but am coming up short.

by Kolohe on Jan 28, 2013 9:53 am • linkreport

If we are consistently running several hundred million dollar surpluses (on a 10 billion dollar quite flush budget) it's time for some tax cuts. Seriously.

The other thing with these repeated large surpluses, is does the federal government start to look at reducing the $600 million annual outlay for DC? Seems like it could be labeled as an easy cut by some...

by H Street LL on Jan 28, 2013 9:53 am • linkreport

Or $400 million could build a couple more of the planned streetcar lines. Or a nice downpayment (~10%) on the separated blue line in DC.

Maybe that's what they are planning by putting it in the reserves.

I can dream, can't I?

by H Street LL on Jan 28, 2013 10:01 am • linkreport

The "car ferry" concept is an interesting idea but I'm not sure it'd work for a daily commuter. Unless the loading on and off is really fast, there's not much incentive for someone in, say, Fredericksburg to use this service to get to DC, they wouldn't save much time or much money compared to VRE or compared to slugging.

I think Amtrak's Auto Train service is somewhat successful because it's a great way for snowbirds to "commute" to FL for the winter, or for families visiting Disneyworld to get out of having to deal with their screaming kids on the airplane and having to rent a car when they get to Orlando.

I could see Amtrak adopting this technology as a way to speed up the current Auto Train service (I think those cars are pretty old and probably need to be overhauled/replaced soon anyway). I could also see this service working for other heavy tourist-oriented trips in that 6~12 hour range, for example LA-Las Vegas or Chicago-New Orleans, where you probably do have a decent number of people currently making those trips in their personal vehicle.

by Marc on Jan 28, 2013 10:06 am • linkreport

If we are consistently running several hundred million dollar surpluses... it's time for some tax cuts. Seriously.

This is the same argument Bush & the Republican Congress used about the Clinton surpluses. We see how that worked out...

by Juanita de Talmas on Jan 28, 2013 10:09 am • linkreport

I hope the car ferry works. Once the passengers see how easy it is to get into the city with the train, they will soon realize how stupid it is to bring their car too, and just become regular old passengers.

by RJ on Jan 28, 2013 10:10 am • linkreport

If we are consistently running several hundred million dollar surpluses (on a 10 billion dollar quite flush budget) it's time for some tax cuts. Seriously.

State governments need reserves because they cannot run deficits in the same way the federal government can. Do you feel especially overtaxed?

by MLD on Jan 28, 2013 10:14 am • linkreport

@Kolohe
Nate Silver has a pretty good writeup on how it would change things and why it's unfair to certain groups:
http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/25/electoral-college-changes-would-pose-danger-for-democrats/

by MLD on Jan 28, 2013 10:16 am • linkreport

Oops, it's not Nate but it's on his NYT blog.

by MLD on Jan 28, 2013 10:17 am • linkreport

"This is the same argument Bush & the Republican Congress used about the Clinton surpluses. We see how that worked out..."

I'm not talking about drastic cuts that would throw our budget out of whack. I'm not even a low tax guy. But its a very competitive region and the DC government budget is already huge. The tax cuts for Bush were a problem, but the doubling of the Pentagon's size and multiple wars blew the big holes in the budget.

@MLD - We already have a 1.2 billion dollar reserve fund. I agree it should continue to be increased. I was specifically referring to the recent tax increase a in 2011. That, at least, should be rescinded. As for my feeling of taxed, my household pays quite a large amount, yes, but I don't feel over taxed. Its more my concern for our competitiveness vs our neighbors.

by H Street LL on Jan 28, 2013 10:19 am • linkreport

@ Kolohe:Democratic opposition is more contingent though.

There is a difference between proposing a change to make the outcome of elections reflect the will of the people more, and proposing a change to make the outcome of the elections reflect the will of the people less, even if the proposal is the same.

@ DC surplus: Use half to turn back some of the roughest cuts, bank the other half.

by Jasper on Jan 28, 2013 10:37 am • linkreport

I don't think the car ferry makes any sense for commuting but I can definitely see it for the I95 corridor. You generally need a car on vacation but as long as the Occoquan to Fredericksburg stretch remains a bottleneck, we should be exploring any and all means to alleviate that bottleneck.

by movement on Jan 28, 2013 10:54 am • linkreport

This is the same argument Bush & the Republican Congress used about the Clinton surpluses. We see how that worked out...

The difference there was that the Clinton surpluses were coming during a significant economic boom.

The DC surplus is not during a boom time . . . if you have surpluses that aren't merely cyclical then you're taxing too much.

by ah on Jan 28, 2013 10:57 am • linkreport

if you have surpluses that aren't merely cyclical then you're taxing too much.

Assuming you are spending what you want/need to spend.

by MLD on Jan 28, 2013 11:06 am • linkreport

@Marc, the auto carriers used on the Amtrak Autotrain were brought in 2005 and are among the newest equipment in Amtrak's aging fleet. The AutoTrain (AT) is successful because it is an 855 mile trip overnight trip saving people from a long boring gas consuming drive on I-95. The AT is now frequently sold out for weeks at a time during the peak travel periods northbound or southbound with no easy way for Amtrak to expand the train capacity.

The idea of a commuter car carrier is a silly one by someone who likely has no idea how long it takes to load the cars and secure them. The AutoTrain can take a hour or more to load the cars because it is an 18 hour overnight trip. Car ferries work because people can drive onto the ferry, put the car into park, and drive off the front end after docking. Can't do that for a bi or tri-level auto carrier which has to secure the cars for 60 or 70 mph train speeds.

by AlanF on Jan 28, 2013 11:08 am • linkreport

The cash reserves should be replenished. With the upcoming budget negotiations in Congress and a possible ax to federal spending, we may end up needing the $400M sooner than we think.

However, when it comes to funding other programs, we really need to take a hard look at how the DC government budget grew 68% between 2001 and 2011. That's more than 2.5x the rate of inflation. And, as far as I can tell, the only reason the budget hasn't doubled is because increases in the District's financing costs (i.e. interest payments) have been kept under the rate of inflation over the last decade. All other areas of government spending have ballooned far higher than 68% and nobody seems to be asking, "Why?".

by Adam L on Jan 28, 2013 11:11 am • linkreport

However, when it comes to funding other programs, we really need to take a hard look at how the DC government budget grew 68% between 2001 and 2011.

People who are concerned about this could start by actually examining the budget and where and why it went up, instead of just calling for "hard looks" at things. Some people might as "why" it's gone up that much but I would start with "has it actually gone up that much?"

by MLD on Jan 28, 2013 11:18 am • linkreport

In that surplus article, it lists 30 mil worth of wishlist stuff that are all social services. None of which I or many other people will never see or use. Doesn't this town spend a ton on homelessness as it is. Take about a 100 thousand and fix the sidewalks near where I live. Not millions on perpetuating a problem.

by Nickyp on Jan 28, 2013 11:21 am • linkreport

@MLD

I just did a quick compare between 2001 and 2011. Obviously, the growth was incremental over the decade and would require reading every single budget justification for each spending category over the last 10 years. That task is made more difficult by the fact the CFO's office has taken most of them down (I only found the FY2001 numbers after searching for an internet archive of the budget request act). It would be a good research project for someone, just not me. :-)

by Adam L on Jan 28, 2013 11:25 am • linkreport

@ Adam L:However, when it comes to funding other programs, we really need to take a hard look at how the DC government budget grew 68% between 2001 and 2011.

Well, let's start with the easy googlable stuff.
Inflation 2001-2011: 27% http://www.usinflationcalculator.com/

Population growth 2001-2011: ~10% (570k->630k)

So, there you have about half of the difference.

by Jasper on Jan 28, 2013 11:26 am • linkreport

@ah

Plenty of people (myself not included) WOULD argue that DC is in a boom (due to federal govt spending) and that the "boom" is soon going to end when the federal govt massively cuts back (it won't, at least past sequestration)

We shouldn't be spending any of this on wants. We should send 1/2 to reserve fund, 1/4 to bond debt, and 1/4 to get started the next/finish the first streetcar line.

by Kyle-W on Jan 28, 2013 11:28 am • linkreport

@Jasper

Definitely true. But at the same time, most new residents are using fewer resources. There hasn't been a significant increase in the total number of police or fire fighters, nor an increase in the number of children (105k people under 18 in 2010 v. 113k in 2000), and I would wager that most new residents are more well-off and require less of government social services. As such, I wouldn't expect such a large increase in the budget for a population that should seemingly require fewer services.

by Adam L on Jan 28, 2013 11:39 am • linkreport

It would be a good research project for someone, just not me. :-)

There, you just answered your own question: because nobody who complains cares enough to dig into the numbers.

Just taking a topline budget number and comparing it from one year to the next is meaningless unless you look at where the money came from and what it was spent on. Were there dedicated taxes (e.g. TIF, baseball stadium) that were put in place for specific uses? The complaint about budget growth seems to imply a pointless ever-expanding hole that DC residents are asked to dump more money into year after year, rather than specific thought-out spending increases.

by MLD on Jan 28, 2013 11:53 am • linkreport

@ Adam L:But at the same time

Look, why don't you do the 'hard looking' yourself, in stead of arguing against some numbers you expect or wager.

My only point was that with five minutes of googling, I could explain half of the difference. For instance, you could compare DC's budget growth with that of VA, MD and the Feds. Should be easy to look up.

If that does not close the gap, then comes the gritty work of looking at actual DC specific changes. For one, I expect that DCs unemployment payments have gone up due to unemployment. Furthermore, DC has been messing a lot with DCPS. Perhaps it gets a lot more money now. DC has also committed a bunch of money to WMATA. DC has committed to a streetcar system. New bridges are being built. The sewer system is getting an upgrade. That's expensive.

So, plenty of expenditures. I do not have time to look up that stuff, but I was not calling for a 'hard look' at the budget. That was you.

by Jasper on Jan 28, 2013 11:56 am • linkreport

Oh, here's a handy link: http://budget.dc.gov/

by Jasper on Jan 28, 2013 11:58 am • linkreport

"The DC surplus is not during a boom time . . . if you have surpluses that aren't merely cyclical then you're taxing too much".

I really don't have any idea how anyone could live in the District or surrounding metro area for more than a month, and not see that the DC region is certainly in a "boom" period.

Total Federal Spending, procurement, salaries etc increased from 135 billion per year in 2008, to 170 billion per year in 2010, a 26% increase in 2 years. Federal spending makes up approximately ~43% of the entire regions economy. I hardly see how that doesn't qualify as "boom".

@Jasper,

DC's population grew by 30,000 between 2000 and 2010, and the budget (usspending) both (total/local) grew by 110%, the bulk of it between 2000 and 2008. The recession cooled things.

DC has added 30,000 in the past 2 years (2010-2012), yet the budget increased 7%

A quick look at usspending shows increases from 2000-2010 for the following:

Welfare Spending + 300%
Healthcare + 66%
Education +150%
Transportation +150%

DC has never found a budget it couldn't out spend. It just got really lucky for 8 out of the past 12 years because of the profligate federal spending which meant the District was left with a surplus.

by DCr on Jan 28, 2013 12:01 pm • linkreport

On the surplus -- I'd say put at least 50% into reserve funds and maybe 30-40% into capital projects (e.g., streetcar, road repair, bike infrastructure, repairs to schools, parks, and other municipal facilities). No more than 10% should go to "soft money" to backfill councilmembers wants or constituents' needs.

If those things that may now be getting deposits are important enough to the district (and I would argue that some should be, like homelessness assistance and expanded library hours), they should be included in the regular budget, not waiting around for a slush fund.

by Jacques on Jan 28, 2013 12:16 pm • linkreport

1/4 to get started the next/finish the first streetcar line

Y'know, a town with money is like a mule with a spinning wheel. No one knows how he got it and danged if he knows how to use it!

by ah on Jan 28, 2013 12:38 pm • linkreport

@Jasper

I would be happy to do a more detailed analysis, but that website removed all the archived budgets prior to 2007. The link on there is broken and I couldn't find the similar webpage on the CFO's website. Maybe DCr can link us to where he found those numbers? Comparisons to the states would be a good state, but you'd need a source that aggregates state, county, and local government spending using a standard methodology. I think the Census has one but I had trouble finding it.

Also, capital spending (roads, streetcars, sewers, etc.) is kept in a different budget. The increases that DCr and I are referring to are all in the operating budget. Like I said, many budget categories are way over the total 68% increase because the District's borrowing costs have been kept incredibly low.

by Adam L on Jan 28, 2013 12:44 pm • linkreport

Bike parking for tenants should be required in every new development. Developers are making a killing with decreased or waived parking minimums and a small portion of that windfall should be required to go to bike parking.

by Tom Coumaris on Jan 28, 2013 12:47 pm • linkreport

Hooray for http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/

Another time-kill.

by Adam L on Jan 28, 2013 1:00 pm • linkreport

State governments need reserves because they cannot run deficits in the same way the federal government can.

That's true and DC should retain a "rainy day" fund sizeable enough to comfortably maintain their very high bond rating. However, at what point do you say a surplus is big enough to roll back some of the last set of tax increases that were implemented because there was a deficit? Clearly, had the Council known they'd be running this large a surplus at this point in time, they would not have increased taxes (or reduced services) by the amount that they did.

If decisions were made based on an inaccurate forecast, those decisions should be re-visited under the light of the new information.

by Falls Church on Jan 28, 2013 4:11 pm • linkreport

No more than 10% should go to "soft money" to backfill councilmembers wants or constituents' needs.

Why should any of the money go to wasteful spending? All CMs should end their constituent services funds like Tommy Wells has and direct needy constituents to the relevant DC service.

by Falls Church on Jan 28, 2013 4:15 pm • linkreport

I was perhaps unclear, and didn't mean to suggest that 10% go into constituent funds.

My 10% figure was to "soft money" in general, as in, operating or program costs for things that had been cut out of the budget due to limited funds, but for which funds might now available because of the surplus. (As opposed to capital funds, or reserves).

In an ideal world, soft money wouldn't exist, because budgets would be a perfect representation of priorities. But in the current political climate in DC (and probably in most US cities), I think less than 10% is a good goal for use of surplus funds.

by Jacques on Jan 28, 2013 5:53 pm • linkreport

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