Greater Greater Washington

Budget


You did it! Streetcars restored... mostly

DC Council Chairman Gray has restored most funding for the streetcars after being swamped with calls from constituents upset at his 2 am excision of the project.


Photo by The Aardvark on Flickr.

The budget amendment, introduced by Gray after lunchtime discussions with streetcar supporters including Public Works and Transportation Chairman Jim Graham, restores $10 million in FY2010 so that DC can move ahead with streetcar purchases and $37 million in the FY2011 capital budget for the H Street-Benning Road line.

The funding still leaves the District without funding for about 3 of the needed cars. That would either force longer headways on the H-Benning line or mean that no service will run on the Anacostia line, which is already under construction. DDOT officials say they still plan to operate the Anacostia line.

This would not have happened without the immediate and powerful groundswell from residents including readers from Greater Greater Washington, We Love DC, DCist, and other blogs that covered the news. The Fenty campaign saw a huge spike in requests for lawn signs and new volunteers today.

Some Councilmembers seemed surprised at the speed and intensity of the reaction, which is a testament to the power of social media. An enormous number of people tweeted about this morning's streetcar news, spreading it very quickly. Councilmember Thomas expressed some frustration at the way calls and emails came in to Councilmembers in real time from the Council session broadcast on Channel 13, which seems like the best kind of democracy to me.

There are still questions about Great Streets money, which DDOT had originally planned to redirect to streetcars and then fill in later with other federal funds. Some Great Streets projects are not ready to go, and some of their funding came from federal stimulus money which must be spent quickly. The streetcar project would have spent it, but the new money comes from other sources including general obligation bonds. It may be that DC will still have to rearrange some capital dollars to meet the requirement to spend the stimulus money fast enough.

Also, the money involves borrowing, which will cost $4 million per year. It's great the streetcar is back, but the budget is in worse shape now than it was before Gray made this cut this morning.

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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If Gray has legitimate complaints about the streetcar planning process, he should clearly enumerate them, step in, and address them. I want the streetcar network to be built right the first time around as much as anybody else here does.

If he wants to kill the project outright, he needs to get up on a podium and say so, rather than cutting last-minute deals at 3AM.

by andrew on May 26, 2010 4:25 pm • linkreport

"The Fenty campaign saw a huge spike in requests for lawn signs and new volunteers today." Quite the sweeping statement with no attribution or numbers. I'd love to know them.

by Julie Westfall on May 26, 2010 4:27 pm • linkreport

Frozen Tropics reports:

Barry is NOT happy about funding the streetcar. Barry says the streetcar plans are too undeveloped to spend this much yet. "This $10 million is not going to be spent this year. The $37 million isn't going to be spent next year." He makes it sound like the project is stealing money from Ward 8. "Recreation centers be damned, playgrounds be damned."

I know we tend to beat each other up around here, with folks like Lance and Jamie putting forward some pretty compelling arguments about planning and such, and it *is* a complicated situation, with many moving parts...but...it sounds like Barry's pissed off, and that's an accurate barometer about 99.999% of the time..

That's why I'll also be laying off the hookers, paying my taxes, cutting out all cocaine and cocaine producs, and voting Fenty as well. If Barry's fer it, I'm agin' it.

by oboe on May 26, 2010 4:27 pm • linkreport

Marion Barry didn't support keeping the funds for streetcars in Anacostia.

If the Councilmember opposes the streetcars, then that's where a cut is easy to make. Just divert Ward 8's share to Ward 6 where residents and the ANCs want a completed line.

by David on May 26, 2010 4:29 pm • linkreport

So, Gray is actually a Fenty stalking horse?

by Michael on May 26, 2010 4:30 pm • linkreport

How the heck does $47 million just suddenly appear without there being either corresponding cuts or revenue increases?

by Fritz on May 26, 2010 4:36 pm • linkreport

I believe it appears riding on a wave of several thousand votes...

Yeah - I would also like to know that, though.

by Neil Flanagan on May 26, 2010 4:41 pm • linkreport

It makes perfect sense to me although I realize my comment here will probably upset some but why not build the streetcar lines in the Wards and neighborhoods who will actually use and support it. The condo dwellers in neighborhoods from Columbia Heights, Logan, Dupont, Shaw, etc. are the ones wanting them in and will use them. Are Ward 8 residents really going to use streetcars? Why not construct the H, K, U, M, 14th, 7th, and Florida St lines first. Let's put some of the investment into the areas that are paying the most into the system first.

by Steve on May 26, 2010 4:42 pm • linkreport

I agree with andrew - if there are real problems, they should be aired.

The incident shows that the people who demand more planning don't have a strong enough argument against the plans - and the "more planning" is just another canard.

by Neil Flanagan on May 26, 2010 4:44 pm • linkreport

Furthermore, more planning is great - but can anyone push forward a serious plan that doesn't include a segment along H St NE?

by Alex B. on May 26, 2010 4:46 pm • linkreport

Furthermore, more planning is great - but can anyone push forward a serious plan that doesn't include a segment along H St NE?

Absolutely correct. If people are saying "more planning more planning" as a reason not to be laying rails on H Street, then they are saying that there shouldn't be streetcars at all. H Street is the next big developing area and right now it is underserved by transit, which is limiting the development potential.

by MLD on May 26, 2010 5:01 pm • linkreport

Wow. This may be the first time I've ever called an elected official and actually gotten positive results...

by EdTheRed on May 26, 2010 5:16 pm • linkreport

Without even commenting on the ridiculous tactics Gray used today, I’d like to point out that the so-called reason for his original NO – lack of planning – is a total straw man. Gray just said that there will be “planning language later,” but DDOT interviewed firms for a streetcar operations plan weeks ago. And that's on top of the public meetings they've been running themselves for a year now. Simply put, the planning measures that Gray has spent all day calling for already existed. Today was an empty day, one set up for Gray to jeopardize and then save the city as he sees it. As a DC voter, I’m taking notes.

by Maggie on May 26, 2010 5:17 pm • linkreport

VG is a dipsh*t.

by Ward 3 on May 26, 2010 5:18 pm • linkreport

I think the street car in Anacostia is important, even if their councilman doesn't support it. We should build a system that's good for the city, not acquiesce to the whims of Marion Barry.

That said, I'm glad my councilman took the lead in getting the funding restored.

by jcm on May 26, 2010 5:18 pm • linkreport

Government by yuppie mobs. Well, I guess that is improvement for DC.

by charlie on May 26, 2010 5:53 pm • linkreport

Great work, David. This is democracy at work.

Vince Gray certainly lost my vote today.

by taamoore on May 26, 2010 6:04 pm • linkreport

Neil: From the noises I was hearing about "debt service" on WeLoveDC, it sounds like someone came up with an emergency bond.

by J.D. Hammond on May 26, 2010 6:16 pm • linkreport

Incidentally, I don't know that Gray ever had my vote, but with this kind of incomprehensible political kabuki or bipolar post-hoc decisionmaking on major infrastructure issues - whichever it is, he'll never have it now.

I was on the fence about Fenty until today, but now I have a yard sign. Yay!

by J.D. Hammond on May 26, 2010 6:20 pm • linkreport

just a couple of percent rise in the top bracket of the income tax and we could have avoided all this. instead, we had to go with a regressive soda tax. ok. a 10% rise in the top bracket could make DC the most prosperous city in America.

by Peter Smith on May 26, 2010 7:34 pm • linkreport

Go team! David, huge props for the critical role you and the readership you have built over the years had in making this happen.

by John E on May 26, 2010 7:49 pm • linkreport

@Peter, look, I support progressive taxation, but if you take DC's top tax rate from 8% to 18%, you'll lose all that tax base you want to use to fund these improvements.

The council was debating 8%->8.75%. That, I support. A 10% rise is, with greatest respect, insane.

by RS on May 26, 2010 7:49 pm • linkreport

@RS--

A rise from 8% to 8.75% is a 10% rise, roughly: 0.75 is 9.375% of 8.

by thm on May 26, 2010 8:02 pm • linkreport

@thm/@Peter

Sorry, I didn't realise you meant 1000 basis points; in that case, I support the increase but am not sure it will "make DC the most prosperous city in America".

relative vs absolute percentages strike again!

-RS

by RS on May 26, 2010 8:34 pm • linkreport

... or rather, I thought you DID mean 1000 basis points, rather than 75...

I've been working waaay too long today...

by RS on May 26, 2010 8:35 pm • linkreport

Problem with the whole "top bracket" thing is that DC's top bracket is $40,000, making it somewhat regressive.

by andrew on May 26, 2010 8:39 pm • linkreport

@Maggie, "Interviewing streetcar firms" and doing a 'dog and pony show' doesn't constitute planning. It's not more than 'flying by the seat of your pants' and then using the public meetings to pretend you know what you're doing.

Did you notice how oddly absent was the 'town hall' meeting style from these 'public' meetings? Do you think that may have had something to do with not really be able to handle the scrutiny that comes with having an entire audience hear a question ... and DDOT's response to it? The 'meetings' were anything but. They were marketing opportunities. Opportunities to market a vision which was back with nothing more than an informal conversation or two with certain selected 'experts'. This kind of stuff might work in a nascent industry like car-sharing, where your primary goal is to increas the perceived value of your offering to increase the price of your stock, (and where you let someone else worry about how to actually deliver what you promised.) But in areas where you don't have 'monopolistic' level profits to cover your mistakes with and where the slow wheels of government procurement (and all its safeguards) get put into the equation, this dog and pony approach doesn't work. You need more than someone selling a magic poition and a bunch of suckers available to believe him. You need to face the real life constraints that this good stuff needs to coordinated, planned, and paid for. There are no 'stupid investors' out there ready to pay outlandish prices based on your unproven visions.

Gray was right in demanding planning. Only through good planning will the system ever get built beyond its original two segments.

by Lance on May 26, 2010 8:52 pm • linkreport

And yes, by not forcing DDOT to do the hard thing .... i.e., to plan the streetcars system out ... those who called in today ... and David with GGW may very well have removed from us any real chance of having a streetcar system that does anything other than roll back and forth along a few blocks of H St ... going from nowhere to nowhere.

They say 'ignorance is bliss'. It can also be very self-defeating.

by Lance on May 26, 2010 8:57 pm • linkreport

> The funding still leaves the District
> without funding for about
> 3 of the needed cars.

That would be three out of six for the H Street line, would it not?

The planned 20-minute headways might bloat to an hour. The 6-car, 20-minute plan figured on operating five cars (having one car out of service at any given time). So said a guy who was planted in the Mt Vernon Square demo car on the Nat'l Train Day weekend. If there were only 3 cars total, two would operate.

by Turnip on May 26, 2010 9:05 pm • linkreport

While this is good news, I have to agree with charlie here. This is *not* democracy at work. This is democraZy at work.

First we have a council chairman who clearly is not prepared for chairing a meeting. A budget meeting. Clearly, the guy is not doing his job.

And then second we have a few citizens calling him and making him backtracking. So a tiny, tiny activist fraction of the population getting its way due to a few phone calls.

And there you have it. The reason why Maryland will never consider retrocession of any part of the District. Who wants this kinda of circus?

by Jasper on May 26, 2010 9:36 pm • linkreport

@Jasper
... This may seem to be a rather flawed government, but we've gone from plan to execution of two streetcar lines in <2 years. Where are the Purple Line and the Corridor CIties Transitway, after all this time?

2 million people live in MoCo and PG. It's been 5-6 years now.

I'm just saying there are worse things than a responsive government...

by RS on May 26, 2010 9:49 pm • linkreport

@Jasper

Full disclosure: I carry a torch for retrocession, I'm not particularly rational about it. That said, don't you think if the District were mostly part of Maryland then more serious candidates for elected office would throw their hats in the ring, since higher office than the Mayor and a career beyond the District's boundaries would be possible?

by jnb on May 26, 2010 9:54 pm • linkreport

except for the vote thing, retrocession would be terrible for DC. 1/2 of the income taxes collected would go to the state of Maryland, instead of all of it remaining here.

by Richard Layman on May 26, 2010 10:23 pm • linkreport

@RS, ... This may seem to be a rather flawed government, but we've gone from plan to execution of two streetcar lines in <2 years. Where are the Purple Line and the Corridor CIties Transitway, after all this time?

You're making the case that this project has not been well planned out. An anology would be that you're deciding to buy a new home on a Monday, and you're signing a contract that Friday .. without ever having considered what kind of house you needed, where you should live, and, most importantly, without you're having secured financing for this house that you can't afford to buy outright.

I think you'd agree that people who would say you were crazy for such an action would be correct ... As would people who'd say you were acting immaturally and doing an impulse buy ... AND most likely buying a house that would neither serve your needs, or that you could honestly afford. And that in the end you'd be spending a lot more for a house that you didn't need, then you would have had you PLANNED and made a better and more well-thought out buying decision.

Why is hard to understand that government projects are the same. Or is it maybe that you think someone else is paying for you and as such you really don't care what the thing costs, or if it has to be redone at more expense.

Which also leads me to wondering ... how many of you that phoned in today actually live in the District ... and will pay the bill when the talley comes dues? And those of you who DO live in the District, how many of you that phoned in also support upping taxes so 'someone' else pays for your 'entitlements',

It's easy to want something 'at any price' when you don't view yourself as having to pay for it.

Some of you may read Ed Cowan's frequent emailings to NW residents with news that concerns DC residents. (He's a former NY Times journalist who know applies his skills offering pro-bono opinions of the daily happenings in our local government.) He recently wrote the following very apt statement in one of his emailings to DC voters:

" Michael Brown (At Large) and Jim Graham (Ward 1) to raise tax rates on incomes above $250,000. I call that good news because that would be the wrong way to raise taxes. The right way would be a temporary income surtax on all taxpayers, 2 or 3 or 4 percent. That would drive home the message that all of us—including the many DC residents who pay no income tax—have a stake in how the DC government manages its finances.?

I think his observation is brilliant. And I can't help wondering how many of you who flooded the DC Chairman's phone line today pay a cent in DC income taxes ... or a cent in DC property taxes ...

by Lance on May 26, 2010 10:28 pm • linkreport

I left out an important part of Ed Cowan's statement:

The good news, as of Tuesday afternoon, is that the council will not adopt the soak-the-rich proposals of two members, Michael Brown (At Large) and Jim Graham (Ward 1) to raise tax rates on incomes above $250,000. I call that good news because that would be the wrong way to raise taxes. The right way would be a temporary income surtax on all taxpayers, 2 or 3 or 4 percent. That would drive home the message that all of us—including the many DC residents who pay no income tax—have a stake in how the DC government manages its finances.

by Lance on May 26, 2010 10:43 pm • linkreport

I can't help wondering how many of you who flooded the DC Chairman's phone line today pay a cent in DC income taxes ... or a cent in DC property taxes ...

Lance, I don't know where you're going with this (but then I so rarely do), but if your point is that DC residents who don't pay income and property tax are somehow less entitled to have an opinion, you're flat out wrong.

First of all, property and income tax makes up only about 60% of the District's total tax revenue.

Then, even if you're a renter, you pay property tax. It's built into your rent - so you don't get the tax write off. But you pay it anyway (if you raise property taxes, rent usually follows). Property tax is about 30% of the revenue.

Finally, a tax is not something you pay to buy citizenship. It is something you're obligated to pay as a condition of your citizenship. We've seen fit to not obligate the working poor to pay income tax. So if they're not obligated to pay it, and they don't, their citizenship remains intact.

Also, I suspect a lot of people here pay income and property tax.

by David C on May 26, 2010 11:30 pm • linkreport

I think it's incredibly trite that Cowan would complain that a soda tax is regressive in nearly the same breath that he would propose a surtax that has a much greater marginal incidence on the poor, whether they drink soda or not.

by J.D. Hammond on May 26, 2010 11:40 pm • linkreport

@RS/@thm,

actually, i did mean a _huge_ rise in the top tax rate. :)

i'm not sure what a basis point is, but if DC's top tax rate is at 8% right now, then i'd be OK with a phased-in tax hike - 1 full percentage point a year, 9%, 10%, 11%, 12%, etc. up until 99.9% if need be, or wherever we decide. increase the DC tax rate for top earners, and better, create a smooth, exponential function so the exponentially rich can pay exponentially more income taxes. simple. would anyone object to this? if some Ayn Rand fan says s/he is going to take their beautiful mind to Montana or Mexico to make their bazillions and not have to pay taxes, i'll say, "Bye! Good luck. We'll be right here in case you decide to return."

i'm not particularly crazy about property taxes -- not sure why -- probably because they seem inherently unfair and seem to give us the worst of gentrification -- forcing old people out of their homes and stuff. i might be wrong about how all that works. who even invented property taxes? did it make sense during farming days, maybe?

of course, raising taxes significantly seems a bit of a fantasy at the moment, but...

i thought of this tax stuff when Cali Dems threatened to raise income taxes by some minuscule amount to battle Arnold's destruction of the State of California.

i remember a few months (??) or so ago, Cali was about to go under (again) or something. the LA Times, i think, put together this *awesome* slider calculator thing that let you decide how you wanted to fix the budget. you could raise taxes, cut some programs, or both - i think. regardless, i calculated that we'd need to increase the 'marginal tax rate' on the top income bracket by just 2% or something and not a single program would have to be cut. no rapists out of jail early, etc. but Arnold won out mostly.

our governance here in the States, and in DC, is strong. we tax you, and you pay, or else. this is not Greece. even the well-off have to pay taxes, here (even if not in proportion). all it takes is one city to start raising taxes, and others will follow suit -- it's free money sitting on the table -- someone's gonna take it, and we'll all be better off.

but if you take DC's top tax rate from 8% to 18%, you'll lose all that tax base you want to use to fund these improvements.

i don't think so -- i don't think we'd lose anyone at all. it's like that "I'll move to Canada if Bush gets re-elected" boasting -- never happened (not that we would have cared). we could make the case that DC is already the most prosperous city/state in the Union. in fact, with an increased tax base, and the _way_ we increased it, we'd get the beautification of the city, universal health care, improved (often free) public transport, a reduction in crime, increased economic opportunity, beautiful and dynamic public spaces, higher quality education, a livelier arts scene -- i think DC would see an influx of top tax folks, and everyone else. i'd be curious to see case studies of this from other cities.

we all know we used to have real income taxes in this country -- up in the 90%+ area. don't want to get on a tangent, but eventually we're going to have to start taxing rich people again. most people like taxes, we just want our taxes used for something meaningful, not paying for oil wars, from which profits just trickle down to those 'exponentially rich' -- i.e. welfare for the rich (and taxpayers pay for private corporations' risk -- aka oil spilling). not trying to re-open a tired debate, but i've argued here before that the US tax system is highly regressive -- that's looking at the entire tax regime, not just highly-visible income taxes. if you want an excellent society, you need to strive for equality -- that's why getting rid of cars is so important. it all ties together! :)

people who live in the city do so for a reason -- they could move to Arlington if they so chose, but Arlington is essentially DC, and guess what -- Arlington ain't cheap, and it ain't gettin cheaper. and it's still no DC. a smooth tax bracket curve would help keep people in DC by keeping things as fair as possible.

yep, you won't ever see it in the newspaper (surprise!), but regular people _love_ raising taxes. if we took a poll of DC residents, whether they would support an increase in taxes to pay for just about anything -- transit, parks, schools, bike lanes, whatever -- we'd all say yes, yes, yes, in overwhelming, probably supermajorities.

and as for the hatred of democracy in its various substantive forms -- what up with that? our systems of governance are set up to account for not just public opinion, but the strength of that public opinion. if only a minority of people vigorously supports or opposes some policy, it's very possible that policy gets passed or shot down - even if it's just a minority of people who hold that view. that's kind of the whole idea behind democracy and organizing and sites like GGW. you want your minority group to be heard? that's easy -- organize. we have a terrific degree of political freedom in the US - it's interesting to see what happens to public policy when people actually decide to use it. good stuff.

i have to look up politicians who've won office by promising to raise taxes on the rich. sounds like a winning proposition to me.

hey, be nice to me -- i might be your mayor someday! :)

would you vote for me if i promised to 'soak the rich'? i know i'd get at least one vote...

by Peter Smith on May 26, 2010 11:43 pm • linkreport

@David C, 'DC' taxes.

by Lance on May 27, 2010 12:03 am • linkreport

Mr. Smith, what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

by RD on May 27, 2010 12:25 am • linkreport

@Lance - I thought you'd agree that the sweet spot for going from concept to breaking ground on a light rail line might be less than 5-6 years planning; time does not automatically connote probity.

@Peter Smith - when we had a 90% tax bracket, people had few places to flee too—and lots of tax shelters, many of which we have (believe it or not) closed. In your possible future, people could flee DC to Bethesda, or the US to a London which is not still rationing food (as it was in the 50s), but is in fact a thriving metropolis.

by RS on May 27, 2010 12:53 am • linkreport

Lance,
Any comment that starts with "Gray was right" is inherently off-base. Please explain how he was right by agreeing to the plan, then stripping it out of the budget at 2am. It is a sleazy, and underhanded approach. "Gray was right" also makes no sense if you really agree that the streetcar needed more thought, as he flip-flopped by lunch. Even if you really, truly believe that more planning is needed - please explain how:
* his approach wouldn't waste $110M in federal stimulus funds that will expire
* Millions in lost revenue from businesses on H st from the extended construction
* Lost property tax revenue from the plummeting real estate values caused by the delay
* How Vince Gray has any credibility at this point, after trying to push the funds to Georgetown parks

Adequately answer that, and we can talk. And before you ask, I am a proud, and longtime resident of the 6th.

by DeRail Gray on May 27, 2010 1:04 am • linkreport

Buses with protected lanes are far, far more cost effective (yet still always require operating subsidies). Light rail will provide less service at much greater cost. The citizens and their representatives have not run the numbers. The decision is being made emotionally and the main beneficiaries will be the light rail suppliers. DC ratepayers will be the losers.

by Bruce McHenry on May 27, 2010 3:40 am • linkreport

RD: It's inappropriate in this forum to call people's arguments "idiotic," "rambling," "incoherent," etc. We appreciate disagreement, but disagreement should discuss the actual issue, not just throw a bunch of insults out at the poster without contributing anything. If you want to comment, please constrain your comments to actual arguments about policy.

by David Alpert on May 27, 2010 7:55 am • linkreport

@Lance: "any real chance of having a streetcar system that does anything other than roll back and forth along a few blocks of H St ... going from nowhere to nowhere."

Once it takes you to Union Station you have a lot of transportation options, no?

@Jasper "And there you have it. The reason why Maryland will never consider retrocession of any part of the District. Who wants this kinda of circus?"
Having participated in the debates on the Purple Line when I lived in Maryland, it was the same circus there.

by Brian White on May 27, 2010 7:59 am • linkreport

@David Alpert it was a direct quote from the movie "Billy Madison".

by Michael Perkins on May 27, 2010 8:03 am • linkreport

@Lance "Which also leads me to wondering ... how many of you that phoned in today actually live in the District ... and will pay the bill when the talley comes dues? And those of you who DO live in the District, how many of you that phoned in also support upping taxes so 'someone' else pays for your 'entitlements',"

Wow man. I live at 15th and G NE. I have been dealing with the massive disruption of H street as it is ripped up to put in streetcar tracks for quite a while now. The time to stop funding a project is not halfway through its construction. Public transit is no more an 'entitlement' than are public streets for your car. Or do you object to streets as well? You do know that gas taxes don't come close to paying for street construction and maintenance right? So that people who do not drive are subsidizing those who do. Do you support doubling the gas tax to remove that injustice? Also, while I'm a staunch small-government guy on the national scale, having an active local government that is spending money on things like transit is exactly what I want. And since DC can't really build any more highways (and shouldn't if they could), transit projects are among the best uses of their money.

by Brian White on May 27, 2010 8:08 am • linkreport

The reason Maryland won't consider retrocession is because they currently have access to the good things about the city - museums, art and culture, jobs, etc - without having to deal with the bad things - poor people. Why would they buy the cow?

There's a reason 6 of the richest counties in America are DC suburbs. It's an ideal situation for MD and VA.

by jcm on May 27, 2010 8:49 am • linkreport

@Bruce McHenry : buses and streetcars are not in the same class and one does not replace the other. History bears this out. They have different usage patterns, and also attract different clientele. Streetcars last a very long time and are pleasing to ride.

@ oboe : Barry moved to DC in 1965, for SNCC, protesting bus fare increases, and focusing on the elimination of the racial segregation of bus passengers. Abandonment of the DC streetcar system began 1958, and completed in 1962, shortly before Barry moved to DC, so anti-streetcar prejudices would have been at their peak, especially in black communities who rarely used them in the first place. Streetcars were mostly for white people - blacks usually took the bus (well, the back of the bus). The original reason Barry came to DC was to fight higher transit costs and the seemingly associated segregated use of transit.

Picture Barry cursing the DC streets, still riddled with streetcar tracks exposed on every street, a vestige of the transit system black people were frowned upon for using. The last thing Barry wants to see is shiny new streetcars in DC. Let alone Anacostia.

by Lee on May 27, 2010 9:22 am • linkreport

@jcm, 6 out of what? Do you know? 6 out of top 10, 20..? curious.
Besides, when I recently registered my car in MD after 19 years in DC I found out where all the former DC DMV employees went who didn't pass the Tony Williams era "re-training public employees to provide service instead of contemp and disservice" program went - to the MD DMV! If DC retroceded where would all those surly, mean, unhelpful people get jobs?

by Bianchi on May 27, 2010 9:24 am • linkreport

Throwing good money after bad.

I mean, only in gov can you spend 100 million dollars planning/constructing/procuring something without:

1. Figuring out how to power it
2. Figuring out how to pay for it
3. Be 3 years behind schedule
4. Already have trendy transportation toy that is broken and underfunded.

and then decide to throw another 50 million dollars down the bottomless hole when the city is half a billion dollars in the hole already and it's reserve fund nearly depleated with the District economy in the crapper with no real end in sight.

No fear my narrow minded (my way or the highway at all costs) yuppie hipsters , as a childless upper income earner who uses almost zero city services and who contributes ~100K a year to the DC coffers via combined income and property tax, my profound tax burden with continue to pay for your shortsightedness.

Atleast for another couple years. This is getting ridiculous and I am tired of paying for it.

by nookie on May 27, 2010 9:29 am • linkreport

@RS, I thought you'd agree that the sweet spot for going from concept to breaking ground on a light rail line might be less than 5-6 years planning; time does not automatically connote probity.

First, it hasn't been 5 - 6 years. It's maybe been 5 - 6 months since the idea of adding a streetcar to the H St NE project was first even floated. And no, for a $1.5 B transit project that will effectively double DDOT annual maintenance operations budget, even 5 - 6 years might not be doable. As we saw it took 10 years for the ground to be broken for Metro ... and this was a project that the feds were pushing. This is a project that we've got to get the feds to buy into if it's to happen.

by Lance on May 27, 2010 9:31 am • linkreport

@Brian:
Lance sez: "any real chance of having a streetcar system that does anything other than roll back and forth along a few blocks of H St ... going from nowhere to nowhere."

Once it takes you to Union Station you have a lot of transportation options, no?

Bah, anyone who's ever owned a train set knows it ain't legit unless it makes a loop. That's one of the things that has always driven me nuts about the Red Line. There it sits, going back and forth, back and forth pointlessly like some kind of multi-million dollar Newton's Cradle, and no one seems to notice but me?

Perhaps I'm being unreasonable, but does anyone else think this is nuts?

by oboe on May 27, 2010 9:45 am • linkreport

@DeRail Guy, Please explain how he was right by agreeing to the plan, then stripping it out of the budget at 2am.

That's not what I was referring to. The flip flop on his position has made me question his suitablity to serve as mayor. Of course, when I put that in context of a mayor who doesn't see himself accountable to anyone, I don't know which is worse.

What I was referring to was Gray's original proposal to delay the project for 1 YEAR (yes, you read that correctly ... ONLY 1 YEAR) so that planning could be undertaken.

Now, if you read about it here, that's not what you heard. David played his 'sensationalism card'. The post said 'Among the 11th-hour (or should it be 14th-hour) changes was a near-complete elimination of the H Street-Benning Road streetcar line.' Nice simple message to rally your troops ... except for one problem. It wasn't true. Here is what Gray had posted on his website:

My firm commitment to a streetcar system for the District
Posted by Vince Gray on May 26, 2010 at 12:36 pm
I strongly support streetcar development, and remain committed to seeing it become a reality here in the District of Columbia. IÂ’ve visited Portland, Oregon, twice in recent years, seen first-hand the positive economic impact and transportation impact on communities, and I am firmly committed to a new streetcar system in the District which brings about similar benefits to our city.

But we owe it to ourselves to have a well thought out planning process. We can’t afford the Mayor’s approach of “build now and plan later,” which only results in poor outcomes and much higher costs in the end. There needs to be proper planning, comprehensive transportation and engineering work, which is why we allocated $5 million to complete the planning process. Streetcars aren’t scheduled for completion until 2030, and over the next year, we’ll do the kind of planning that’s necessary to give us the most efficient use of our dollars.

I have full intention to move forward with streetcars, however, while we do the planning over the next year, we can take some of the dollars for desperately needed and more immediate capital projects, like renovation of middle schools, while our dollars are dwindling. This approach, which passed Council by a vote of 11-2, will allow for better collaboration and cooperation with residents, business owners, and other stakeholders, and result in a much stronger streetcar system in the end.

And that was the statement I was agreeing with.

And as for your interests as an H Street NE resident, I suggest you read up on the raw deal DDOT is proposing for H St NE commerical properties and apartment buildings. Because proper financial planning has NOT occured, they are proposing to lay all the costs of the operations and maintenance of this line at your neighborhood's collective doorstep. And if you think it won't affect you since (maybe) you don't own a commercial property there or an apartment building there, think again. Businesses don't really pay taxes ... not any taxes. Taxes are a cost of doing busienss for commercial property. Those extra special overlay district taxes that will be charged to the owners of commercial and apartment properties in the H St NE area WILL get passed on to the people who shop in those businesses or live in those apartments. The ramifications are big. Among those ramifications are 'how will a mom and pop business react when their taxes more than double in year?' 'how will the neigbhorhood like it when rents suddenly shoot up?' ... lots and lots of ramifications.

Now if proper planning were allowed to be done, as Gray has suggested, then it wouldn't be ONLY the H St NE neigbhorhood carrying all the costs of the operation of 'their' line. You'd have provisions in place for paying for 'our' 37 mile, citywide line ... with backing by the feds and a city wide tax base. You wouldn't be going it alone as your CM has seen fit for you to do. Interesting how even the 'other' part of his ward isn't going to pay a dime toward that operations and maintenance. Just you.

by Lance on May 27, 2010 9:50 am • linkreport

@Peter Smith - while I'll avoid RD's intemperate (yet very funny) language, I think you are missing a key point. It's one thing threaten to move to Toronto from NYC if Bush is re-elected - of course that's hyperbole. It's a lot more likely that a person/family will move 3 miles to Arlington or Montgomery County when faced with a $20,000 increase in their tax bill.

by dcd on May 27, 2010 9:51 am • linkreport

@Lance

It's maybe been 5 - 6 months since the idea of adding a streetcar to the H St NE project was first even floated.

Please explain. It's been a lot longer than 6 months since those tracks started going in. If memory serves, I've known about this project myself for a lot longer than 6 months.

by Matthias on May 27, 2010 10:09 am • linkreport

@Bianchi 6 out of 10. Here's the DC area on the top 10 list, according to Forbes:

1. Loudoun County, VA
2. Fairfax County, VA
3. Howard County, MD
6. Fairfax City, VA
9. Arlington County, VA
10. Montgomery County, MD

by jcm on May 27, 2010 10:14 am • linkreport

@Lee Picture Barry cursing the DC streets, still riddled with streetcar tracks exposed on every street, a vestige of the transit system black people were frowned upon for using. The last thing Barry wants to see is shiny new streetcars in DC. Let alone Anacostia.

You make a great point. Additionally, I've heard that a part of the reason there is so much opposition to streetcars being built east of the river is that they're going to bring with them young non-African American hipsters looking to 'take over' and effectively 'push out' the local African American populace. It may be a kind of 'Why didn't they put a Metro stop in Georgetown?' myth in reverse ... But there is some truth to it. What do you think will happen the minute currently isolated parts east of the river as easily assessible by streetcar? You know 'development' in the eyes for some means 'getting pushed out' in the eyes of others.

by Lance on May 27, 2010 10:17 am • linkreport

@Lance 5-6 years is about how long the lines have been planned; a little more for the Anacostia line, a little less for the H St line. I was suggesting that if 5-6 years isn't enough (Purple Line/CCT, still no ground broken), it would seem that we can't get anything done.

http://web.archive.org/web/20061119232428/http://www.thecommondenominator.com/012306_news1.html
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/04/27/AR2005042702078.html

by RS on May 27, 2010 10:27 am • linkreport

@nookie, and it's reserve fund nearly depleated with the District economy in the crapper with no real end in sight.

While I agree with the gist of your argument about throwing good money after bad, I want to point out that your statement above is categorically wrong. The District economy has not changed significantly from before 'the crash' in terms of what kind of income people have their disposal, who still has jobs, or even the value of their real estate property. What has changed is that the District is no longer getting those 'windfall profits' from real estate transfer fees from a crazy real estate market that lasted some 5 years and that everyone knew couldn't go on for ever. In that same period 5 year period the District's budget balloned by close to 50%! I.e., The budget reflected some taxes we knew would only be coming in temporarily. Now that those taxes aren't coming in anymore, it's time to reduce the budget back to where it was 5 years ago.

No, it's not that the DC economy is significantly any worse than it was before the crazy real estate market, ... just that the city government led by Mayor Fenty got used to spending too much. There's a big difference there.

by Lance on May 27, 2010 10:30 am • linkreport

@RS and others. Lightrail is NOT streetcars. The first time the idea of a streetcar system was brought up was last December. David wrote about it here:

http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post.cgi?id=3862

Yes, the spinmasters have attempted to re-write history to make it sound like that's what they were planning all along. Except there isn't a shred of truth to the matter. Do you realize that the 3 cars we bought in the Czech Republic were bought by Dan T. to use as part of a demonstration project for light rail on some CSX tracks ... that didn't work out because CSX refused to let them use the tracks? Then, since the millions of dollars had ALREADY been spent on the cars, another use for them had to be found ... and that use has eventually morphed into a $1.5 Billion streetcar system announced less than 6 months ago. This isn't planning, this is the cart leading the horse. And funny how that is still happening. I've heard rumours that DDOT has been refused the right to use Union Station as the western terminus of the H St line. So, what next, are we going to re-route it to the Maine Avenue waterfront (to a water ferry and sea-plane landing 'transit center') and then say 'that was what was intended all along'!

by Lance on May 27, 2010 10:41 am • linkreport

A delay of one year would mean an infinite delay for the streetcar project as a whole. As David mentioned in the previous thread, DDOT is applying for an Urban Circulator grant for the 2nd half of the H-Benning line. Without the first half funded in this year, the 2nd half will not win that grant. Delaying action now means a delay of much longer than 1 year, and those delays will increase costs, not reduce them.

Lance, streetcars have been discussed for H-Benning for years. The DC Alternatives Analysis (published in October of 2005) is just one example. Please stop writing things that are blatantly false and untrue.

by Alex B. on May 27, 2010 10:42 am • linkreport

@Lance,

Please take a deep breath and go back to explain some of these nonsensical talking points:

5-6 months since the idea of a streetcar of H - Huh? It's been under construction for longer than that.

Streetcar going from nowhere to nowhere - how is a first phase streetcar that goes from a transportation hub to an emerging commercial hub, going from nowhere to nowhere?

Proper Planning - You keep saying this,. but you have yet to say what planning should occur in this one year moratorium that Grey proposed at 2am, with no input from anyone.

Non-Democratic - how, in the world you live in, does the input from a motivated, unfunded, constituency, not equal democracy? How was it more democratic for Grey to unilaterally make this decision the day before a meeting, with no input at all? Why weren't you organizing a groundswell of support for this moratorium, and for Grey?

Entitlement - Public transportation is not an entitlement. No more so than automobile infrastructure, or a subsidized power grid. I don't even want to hear you explain this, it's just a fact.

a cent in DC income taxes ... or a cent in DC property taxes - The answer is that the readership of this blog is undoubtedly, on average, in a tax bracket above the average in DC, and will shoulder more than the median burden for this and other public works projects. By the way, your assertion otherwise makes you look very small minded and petty. My partner and I, a laywer and an endowed professor at Georgetown, likely pay more taxes for our household than you. See how silly that sounds?

by CJ on May 27, 2010 10:46 am • linkreport

@CJ

5-6 months since the idea of a streetcar of H - Huh? It's been under construction for longer than that.

Streetcar going from nowhere to nowhere - how is a first phase streetcar that goes from a transportation hub to an emerging commercial hub, going from nowhere to nowhere?

Your second statement explains your first. Building an isolated light rail to operate in the median of H Street NE (as was talked about before) is NOT the same thing as building the first segment of a streetcar system to operate in the streets and in the entire city.

by Lance on May 27, 2010 10:49 am • linkreport

@Lance

Respectfully, from a planning standpoint. Yes it is "the same thing." For about 5 years, the District has been planning a transit project for H street. Most importantly, for your argument, the financing of that project has been under consideration for that long.

Your entire bitch about this project centers on funding, yet those years of funding planning did not go up in smoke when the transit mode for H street shifted last year. So why are you maintaining that this planning only began 5 months ago?

by CJ on May 27, 2010 10:55 am • linkreport

oh, and the reason it's going from 'nowhere to nowhere' is that we no planning in place to ensure (1) that it gets connected to a full streetcars system (we don't even know at this point if a $1.5 B system can ever 'fly', and (2) we don't even have a plan as to how to connect the western terminus to any kind of transportation system. Just 'saying' something isn't the same as 'doing' it. For example, DDOT can 'say' they're going to connect the western terminus to Union Station. But who did they plan this out with before saying it? I'm hearing that already they're being told 'no' by the group that owns Union Station ... and that group is only one stakeholder in the equation. They'll also need the approval of CSX whose air rights they'll have to traverse to get there ... And given that CSX told them 'no' before in regards to DDOT first proposed use of these EBay cars 5 years ago, what's to guarantee that the answer will be any different now. That's the whole point about planning. You work out all the kinks before deciding unilaterly how you're going to do it. Else you end up with the situation you have with the Penn. Ave. bike lanes.

Personally, I think the problem here is that we have a DDOT director who's used to using 'selling' a concept and increasing value for shareholders by bringing great ideas to the table ... and then letting the engineers figure out how to do it. He doesn't understand that government doesn't (and can't) work that way. Government operates on much tighter 'margins'. There are no 'investors' out there willing to take a killing for the 'chance' of making a killing. It's a whole different ballgame, and he hasn't understood that yet.

by Lance on May 27, 2010 10:58 am • linkreport

@Lance

SO in your cost benefit analysis, it's worth losing and/or jeopardizing 110M in federal funding, and delaying construction already underway for a year, to get answers to exactly how the streetcar will interface with Union Station?

Help me out here. I'm trying to understand your position, as opposed to these unexplained blurbs you keep throwing out.

Because, the above is sort of ridiculous, from a public works planning point of view. Large projects go forward all the time without every detail planned to the Nth degree. Especially when the timing of funding constraints make it reasonable to start spending. If you look around the region, you can find any number of stimulus projects that were moved forward in order to take advantage of federal funds, and this is no different.

by CJ on May 27, 2010 11:10 am • linkreport

@CJ ... The point was DC taxes. How many of the folks 'phoning in/ emailing in' do you think were actually NOT DC residents. I'd bet the majority of the calls and emails received came from the many Va. and Md. commentators we see on this blog and other blogs. And who had no business telling the DC Chairman anything.

by Lance on May 27, 2010 11:12 am • linkreport

@Lance

Baseless speculation.

You can do better than this, I know it.

There are probably some reasonable objections to streetcars, but I haven't seen you put one forth yet. Not one.

by Alex B. on May 27, 2010 11:17 am • linkreport

Perfectionist Lance, waging unrelenting war against the good, claims:

"First, it hasn't been 5 - 6 years. It's maybe been 5 - 6 months since the idea of adding a streetcar to the H St NE project was first even floated."

It has indeed been at least 5 or 6 YEARS, not months, since the Great Streets plans for H Street and Benning Road incorporated streetcar tracks under Mayor Williams. See, for example, the 30-page descriptive brochure put out by Williams' DOT in 2005, available on the DC government website (find the DC Streetcar page and follow the Reports and Studies page; I don't know how to make a compact link in these comments).

In fact, the metal rails began going in over a year ago; see, e.g.
greatergreaterwashington.org/post.cgi?id=2450

The supposed lack of planning he or she keeps complaining about sounds more like a lack of awareness on Lance's own part.

by davidj on May 27, 2010 11:17 am • linkreport

Ok. It's not about how long the planning stage it. The problem is that what we saw here was a incompetent council chairman nix and reinstate a plan within 24h without any argumentation either way. Not even irrational planning.

It's not about planning. It's about governance. Absent governance in this case.

As for the Maryland comments. No, I don't think other people would run for office if higher posts would be available. I also did not want to suggest that the soaps around the Silver and Purple lines went through any better governance. But as bad as the Purple thingie is going in MD, I am pretty sure Marylanders don't want more of that.

by Jasper on May 27, 2010 11:21 am • linkreport

@ Lance

Neither you, nor I, know how many people who contacted council members were actual DC tax payers. Furthermore, your original flame on the issue made it clear that you believed at least some of these hypothetical non-paying entitlement seekers, were DC citizens who do not support tax increases. Please stick to the horse you rode in on.

"And those of you who DO live in the District, how many of you that phoned in also support upping taxes so 'someone' else pays for your 'entitlements',

It's easy to want something 'at any price' when you don't view yourself as having to pay for it."

This, Lance, is a flame. It is baseless, and insulting. We pay taxes, and we expect services for those taxes. That is reasonable, and your assertion that we expect something for nothing is simply an ad hominem in place of an argument.

by CJ on May 27, 2010 11:50 am • linkreport

my profound tax burden with continue to pay for your shortsightedness.

an actual analysis shows that your 'profound tax burden' is probably not profound at all -- unless you are poor.

Who Pays? is a comprehensive analysis of state and local tax systems in all fifty states. The study, released on November 18, 2009, shows that on average, state and local tax systems require the poorest taxpayers to pay the highest effective tax rates

DC is among the two least unfair tax regimes in America today. shwing! good stuff! DC almost gets to the point where we achieve a flat tax. almost. the middle class and poor are _still_ subsidizing the rich in the District. so, not only do we not have a progressive tax system, we don't even have a flat tax system -- it's regressive. boo.

It's a lot more likely that a person/family will move 3 miles to Arlington or Montgomery County when faced with a $20,000 increase in their tax bill.

i call 'bs'. let's test it. if they're ready to move out, then they'll be ready to move back when rates change again. people aren't corporations -- i suspect they can't move as easily -- cities need to take advantage of that. corporations can extort cities for all sorts of tax breaks, handouts, transfers of wealth, etc. (some of which has been addressed here on GGW) -- but not regular people, not even regular rich people.

plus, if someone's tax bill goes up by $20k next year, then their combined income is in the range of $2M -- not bad. don't think they're gonna miss $20k too much, but let's see. as i said, people _love_ taxes -- that's how Europe got to be, Europe. health care. transport. vacation. dignity. it can all be ours.

i've found that quoting from movies is a great technique to make one's point, to make a funny, to humiliate an adversary, etc. but i only use them when they, you know, make sense. in any case, here's a link, since i'm apparently not the only one to have not seen this movie.

by Peter Smith on May 27, 2010 12:03 pm • linkreport

@ Lance -- unless people had fake addresses ready Council members know who is a DC resident and who isn't. Unless you are assuming all the people who called aren't DC residents, they certainly do pay DC income and property taxes. Unless you want to assert that everyone who called and lives in the District receives public assistance or is low enough income to pay no taxes. That would make this the most atypical big of activism ever.

by katydid13 on May 27, 2010 12:23 pm • linkreport

@PeterSmith: Saying how awesome Europe is, at the same time that they're in a major economic crisis due to overtaxation, overregulation, and way-the-hell overspending, is rather humorous. To say the least.

As for streetcars, has anyone done a mockup of how tall the streetcars will actually be on H Street? The pics of the City Center photo op showed them to be rather tall. Yet DDOT's latest SimCity video shows them to be not so tall. Will people have to climb up steps to get on board?

And I am willing to predict that in a few years time, the Council will be holding all sorts of hearings to determine how so much money was spent on streetcars and what there is to show for it.

by Fritz on May 27, 2010 1:04 pm • linkreport

Commenting for the emailed...comments. Meta?

by JMS on May 27, 2010 1:15 pm • linkreport

@JMS

FYI, you can subscribe to the comments without commenting.

by Matthias on May 27, 2010 1:19 pm • linkreport

The notion that one has to be a tax paying citizen to be allowed to contact a politician is nonsense. I could cite an enormous list of them, but let me just stick to one. Because tax paying seems to be the sticking point.

It is nearly impossible to get through the District without engaging in some kind of economic activity. And economic activity generates taxes. Sales tax. Hotel tax. Restaurant tax. Corporate tax. Income tax. Payroll tax. And soon, there will even be a soda tax.

So, just buying a can of soda from a machine generates sales tax, soda tax, property tax (for owner of the location of the machine), income and payroll tax (of the folks that fill and fix the machine), corporate taxes (from the owner of the machine) and who knows what else. The can of soda is not much more than an afterthought in the flurry of taxes generated by simply sticking that dollar bill into that machine.

So, the notion that very few people pay taxes is a lie.

Furthermore, especially Washingtonians should know that taxation and representation are not as related as many people think.

by Jasper on May 27, 2010 1:20 pm • linkreport

@Jasper, So are you or are you not a DC resident? And did you or did you not call the DC Chair's office to 'demand' that DC taxpayer money be allocated in this budget year to pay for a streetcar line that we haven't figured out how we're going to power it and from 'where' to 'where' it's actually going to be going?

by Lance on May 27, 2010 1:30 pm • linkreport

Saying how awesome Europe is, at the same time that they're in a major economic crisis due to overtaxation, overregulation, and way-the-hell overspending, is rather humorous. To say the least.

The US is in a major economic crisis due to undertaxation, underregulation, and way-the-hell overspending on the military instead of productive pursuits.

Europe is awesome. Canada is awesome.

And we're not going to solve the US vs. EverywhereElse debate here, but I think the winning system is clear. The more European DC becomes, the more livable it becomes, the more Greater is becomes -- this is not an accident, this is by design.

by Peter Smith on May 27, 2010 1:44 pm • linkreport

@fritz, the streetcars looked really tall because they had to be stacked on top of rail ties and then on top of rails on top of the rail ties, so subtract about a foot from their apparent height because the tops of the rails will be at street level.

I confirmed with DDOT that the streetcars will be roll-on boarding at stations through the center doors, which will have curbs slightly (a few inches to half a foot?) higher than normal sidewalks. The end doors will have a couple of steps, because the floors in that area have to be elevated to allow space for the wheels and trucks.

by Michael Perkins on May 27, 2010 1:50 pm • linkreport

@fritz, Michael Perkins

BeyondDC posted an earlier graphic with a to-scale comparison of a large Circulator bus and one of the Trio Streetcars:

http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1147/572412290_fcd7b04b58_o.jpg

by Alex B. on May 27, 2010 1:53 pm • linkreport

@Lance:

Your "argument" that people calling were from MD or NoVA doesn't make any sense (like a lot of what you say (sorry)). I'm a DC resident. I don't call the Alexandria mayor's office or Silver Spring's council when they are making transportation planning decisions. Whether I support the decision or absolutely hate it, why on earth would I call over there?

by h street resident on May 27, 2010 2:14 pm • linkreport

@ Peter Smith:

While a .75% tax may not compel many to move (although I would point out that it's already more expensive to live here, and that may be the straw the breaks the camel's back), I believe you suggested that the tax rate move from 8% to 18%. That mean someone making $200,000 would be facing an additional $20,000 tax burden. I think a lot of people would move in that situation. I certainly would. Heck, even after paying for an old used car, insurance, parking at my office, and throwing an extra $500 per month at my mortgage/rent, I'd STILL have $5000 left over each year that I wouldn't have if I stayed in DC. And I wouldn't have to worry about where my daughter will go to school.

I love DC, I'd love to stay here, and I'm even willing to pay a little more to do so. But that's real money you're talking about.

by dcd on May 27, 2010 2:53 pm • linkreport

@Michael Perkins & Alex B. -- Thanks!

by Fritz on May 27, 2010 2:57 pm • linkreport

"I'm hearing that already they're being told 'no' by the group that owns Union Station"

Lance, your credibility has been gone on this site ever since you told us you "heard" the streetcars can't operate bidirectionally when they quite obviously can.

So please stop relaying the rumor du jour among your NIMBY friends at the C100. We don't really care.

by Phil on May 27, 2010 3:03 pm • linkreport

I love DC, I'd love to stay here, and I'm even willing to pay a little more to do so. But that's real money you're talking about.

yeah, i tried to clarify that we wouldn't want to 'shock the system' -- we'd want to do a 1% increase per year, probably every year, until we actually had a marginally progressive tax system at least. that gives us plenty of time to actually use the new tax money to make some great changes so you can see real benefits to the money you're paying into the system. as i mentioned, people _love_ taxes -- as long as they go to productive things (I'm really not sure what the most wasteful local expenditures are on a local/regional level.) -- improved schools, improved parks, improved libraries, poverty/crime prevention, more/better police, etc. etc.

so, given a 1% increase in your income tax next year, would you move? what if you could now get around on bike 20% of the time?

would another 1% increase in your income tax the following year make you move? what if you could now get around on bike 40% of the time?

you can imagine what could be done with just a little bit more money coming into the system. if and when we get a decent politician, and do a lot better organizing at the grassroots level, we'll have a chance to see some of this stuff.

with even a very small tax increase on the people who are most easily able to pay it, DC could become much much greater, and that, I argue, would keep you, and your high-tax-bracket brethren, here.

i'd like to find case studies, and some good ones are probably the most and least livable cities in the world. of the best cities, i suspect we'd find several commonalities wrt to their taxation (progressive) and value system (universal health care, good public transport, etc.).

by Peter Smith on May 27, 2010 3:12 pm • linkreport

@Peter - the people who love taxes don't pay them (generally).

Look, I'm a reasonably well off progressive, and I'll pay taxes gladly—to a point.

An extra 10% would make Bethesda look awfully good, I have to say.

95% of DC would love your tax increase. None of them would pay it, and you'd lose the people whose 8%/8.75% is making even the current DC reality possible.

I'm happy to pay more... but there are limits.

by RS on May 27, 2010 3:18 pm • linkreport

Peter Smith wants to raise taxes in DC by 10% and he lives in... San Jose.

by Jason on May 27, 2010 3:35 pm • linkreport

Going from 8% to 18% is crazy. And it's not a "ten percent" increase. It's a 125% increase.

by MLD on May 27, 2010 3:46 pm • linkreport

@Peter - if the plan was to raise taxes 1% each year for 5-10 years, I absolutely would move - and soon. While I appreciate your desire to make the tax system more progressive, and sympathize with it to a large extent, it's simply unworkable for one local jurisdicton, surrounded by multiple lower-tax jurisdictions, to attempt this and not be ravaged by flight from DC. Self-interest takes over at some point.

And, as a Democrat, I also have some sympathy for the "throw money (preferably someone else's) at problems to make them better, it's not generally an effective strategy, as the DC public schools unfortunately demonstrate.

by dcd on May 27, 2010 4:02 pm • linkreport

@Peter - the people who love taxes don't pay them (generally).

i pointed out evidence that shows almost everyone seems to be paying taxes, with the greatest burdens on the middle class and poor.

so, just who (generally) isn't paying taxes?

Peter Smith wants to raise taxes in DC by 10% and he lives in... San Jose.

Not _just_ DC -- San Jose, too. And San Francisco. And Portland. And South Carolina and Oklahoma and Arizona and North Dakota and New Mexico, and we're going to California and Texas and New York. And we're going to South Dakota and Oregon and Washington and Michigan. And then we're going to Washington, D.C., to take back the White House. Yeaggghh!

I'm happy to pay more... but there are limits.

we need to find those limits. :) seriously.

i should say that 'millionaires' taxes are hitting the news lately. @andrew mentioned the 40k top tax bracket in DC -- it's possible that those making just 100k or 200k might not see any tax increase at all -- instead it might just be paid for by increased taxes on those earning upwards of 300k, or 500k, or 2000k. that's why a decent politician could really change the game -- in DC or anywhere else. if done right, we could rally 90% of voters behind big tax increases on the super-rich. the super-rich, for their part, wouldn't even notice paying a bit more. and if they left? bye! more equality for DC -- always a good thing. too much money in one person's hands is too much of a concentration of power.

@Peter - if the plan was to raise taxes 1% each year for 5-10 years, I absolutely would move - and soon.

i think the plan would be whatever DC voters wanted it to be. even if we raised taxes on the richest just 1/2 of 1% each year for the next 5-10 years, we'd see massive, almost unimaginable (i.e. Europe-like) boosts to livability. but we wouldn't have to stop there -- i'm just throwing out numbers which are _very_ easy for rich people to handle. i've been paying the highest tax brackets in multiple states and countries for years and they're almost nothing. of course, i get almost nothing in return. i'd rather we have a system where i actually pay something and get something in return. and the phenomenally well-off would pay much more - that's the major sticking point - the rich (the top 1% or 1/2 of 1%) never pay their fair share. having everyone pay their fair share would produce a much better/happier society.

it's simply unworkable for one local jurisdiction, surrounded by multiple lower-tax jurisdictions

this was my point earlier -- if we spend the money on productive things, then DC will simply be much better than Arlington, Bethesda, etc., so people would not move, and if they did, other people would gladly take their place. i suspect most cities, but particularly DC, will start to see housing prices appreciate considerably, if not skyrocket, compared to other areas (one saving grace for DC workers is the excellent Metro, which goes _way_ out). a big part of that will be GGW, which is going to make sure DC continues on the path to livability quicker than other regions. also, as i mentioned earlier, when other 'lower-tax jurisdictions' see that money on the table, they're going to take it -- i guarantee it -- especially when they see what DC is doing with their tax money. instead of having a race to the bottom, like you have with cities chasing big corporations with all sorts of taxpayer subsidies, you'll have a race to the top -- everyone paying more taxes, but some cities spending their money more wisely, and more in line with what their taxpayers want (allowing for real political/money/power distortions, of course). also, the whole 'flight' argument is based, in part, on the idea that we'll continue "running what we're running the way we're running it" (Kunstler). i suppose it's possible that nothing much changes for drivers, but it's not likely, imo. place is going to continue to become _much_ more important to people -- exponentially so -- and people will pay for it.

by Peter Smith on May 27, 2010 5:05 pm • linkreport

Did anyone notice the Street Cars are not being built in this nation. Increasingly the only things we make in this country are military related. Skilled manufacturing workers in the Midwest are clamoring for jobs and when we do have jobs that could be served best by those areas of the country our nation's capital turns it back and imports street cars from Europe. Screwed up isn't it. In the end DC might just end up being a world class city but it will be the only such city in the United States if we keep going down the same path we are on. Gray may have been right the street car plan needs to take a step back for now and he should not have caved. If you doing something this ....do it the right way.

by KShah on May 28, 2010 12:50 am • linkreport

Did anyone notice the Street Cars are not being built in this nation

i'd argue that's by design. that's why Obama is shopping in Spain and China and Japan and everywhere outside of America for high speed train technology / companies / workers / manufacturers -- we can't allow manufacturing to happen again in the US -- leads to a disaster -- a relevant/viable middle class with real wages, unions, workers' rights, the whole nine -- not good for corporate profits.

there is a little bit of pushback, tho -- like, the streetcars are Czech/Skoda, right? they got a deal with United Streetcar (Portland) -- licensing of tech and all that. those close ties at least help keep hope alive that we can still manufacture here. and i don't think United Streetcar really existed when DC first ordered the streetcars, but not sure.

been hoping we continue to see more bicycle manufacturing happen in the US -- it's happening a good bit in the custom/specialty area, but not at all in the mass market. if us sustainability-oriented bicycle advocates actually cared about sustainability, we'd be pushing all US-based bike brands to start building their bikes here instead of in Taiwan. bikes are not cars or heavy manufacturing, but you gotta start somewhere. it's how the auto industry first got its start in america.

by Peter Smith on May 28, 2010 2:53 am • linkreport

I can see why we haven't built a lot of streetcars here. When you buy three of them, amd the five years later you buy maybe three or four morethat doesn't really lend itself to owning, equipping and staffing a factory that builds streetcars effectively.

Over in the czech republic, they have hundreds of streetcars in operation, which need maintenance and replacement, and are all of standard designs.

by Michael Perkins on May 28, 2010 9:19 am • linkreport

I don't really know the numbers, but I wouldn't be surprised if the number of streetcars for the Prague system were about the same or greater than the number for the whole US.

So when the Czechs need streetcars, they need a LOT of streetcars.

On the other hand, DC buys so few, and our are going to have to be a special design to accommodate wireless operation.

If you want to have a factory, I bet you have to be able to commit to buying more than a couple cars a year for a decade.

by Michael Perkins on May 28, 2010 10:22 am • linkreport

On Czech streetcars: So long as the vehicles are made in places with strong regulation regarding hazardous chemicals (EU RoHS > US laws), labour rights and worker protections, and we're getting a good deal, why should DC care whether the cars are made in Boise or Brno? It's nativist to feel we're being robbed by buying from companies that are in comparably taxed, comparably regulated jurisdictions. As others have said, we destroyed our mass transit vehicle production industry decades ago, and so whether it's WMATA (for Metro) or DDOT (for the streetcars), we have to go overseas to Europe to source the hardware.

@Peter - I'm sorry, I meant the new taxes. Bracketed as you describe, naturally the 90% not paying the new taxes would be in favour of them.

Peter, we want equality through uplift, not capital flight. The latter reduces the resources we have at our command to perform that uplift of distressed populations. The problem with a high Gini coefficient is the depressed left side of the graph, not the peaking right side.

Again, I agree we need higher taxes, but your plan would have every family affected moving to other pleasant, walkable, safe communities in the area that are connected with downtown via that Metro whose reach you were lauding. Downtown Bethesda isn't so bad; I live in DC because it's better. I'm willing to pay for the difference, but there is a cost benefit analysis. I owe the poor of DC roughly the same obligations I owe the poor of Maryland; I end up helping to support the former because they live closer to me (well, sort of ;-) )—not a morally significant rationale to pick one group of poor over another.

Were I to move to Bethesda, I'd not feel disloyal or illiberal; I moved from one blue jurisdiction to another, from one highly taxed jurisdiction to another. I'd miss Tryst and Filter, but Quartermaine is quite good.

You can't blame people for performing a cost-benefit analysis, and I don't think the public goods you wish to buy would overwhelm the vast increase in cost you are proposing. We're going to get many of the things you describe, but by small increases in taxes, spending over time, and federal support.

The poor will not get all they deserve, but I assure you, they'd get even less under your proposal; at least they get 8% (soon, 8.75% hopefully) of the income of the wealthy, now. Losing that would hurt.

by RS on May 28, 2010 10:40 am • linkreport

In regards to the comment ..."that doesn't really lend itself to owning, equipping and staffing a factory that builds streetcars effectively".

Actually, you are right and wrong. A few cities in the US that do have street cars take San Francisco (cable cars
and Dallas. Both cities have older cars refurbished. Case in point: The city of Dallas instituted a street car system in 1989. They have since expanded it several times to connect to the light rail system built in the 90s and this year will connect it to downtown. Like DC the system only requires a few new cars a year or so and/or every time it has expands. But like stated earlier, instead of importing cars from Europe they refurbish old street cars.

Michael Perkins, this work can be done in the US without great outlays of cash to build huge plants and equipment purchases! It is also less expensive.

As I said the DC street car system could end up been overly expensive to its citizens and a wasteful if not planned accordingly. Gray should not have backed down to the pressure. He's not against it he was just wanting to get a better plan in place. That's my understanding.

by kshah on May 28, 2010 11:02 am • linkreport

@kshah, DC should buy the best streetcars it can at the best price it can. If those are Czech-made so be it. One of the great things about the modern world is that I can drink coffee from Kenya, while listening to a song by an Irish artist on an ipod built in China and designed in the United States, wearing clothes from Indonesia, etc... and someone in Japan can do the same. I'm not really ready to dismantle the modern world for outdated and discredited protectionism. I have great faith in American entrepreneurs and workers. As long as we protect them from unfair trading practices they can compete with anyone. We do not need to coddle them and do them little good when we do.

Unless everything you own was made in the U.S. by U.S. workers, you're kind of a hypocrite right?

by David C on May 28, 2010 11:14 am • linkreport

DC street car plan has some problems that need to be dealt with. Don't get me wrong...it's a great idea to have street cars but it could be much better. As is...it will be overly expensive. As a result 20 years from now DC will be too expensive a place to live for most. In contrast, 20 years ago the District of Columbia was too dangerous for most. DC needs to find some balance. This is our nation's capital, not Lower Manhattan-

by kshah on May 28, 2010 11:15 am • linkreport

Not really DavidC,

Not against globalization or importing goods from overseas, entirely. Find someone else for that argubment. I am for utilizing our own nations resources more effectively. We spend billions on making military apparatuses in the US and Law makers fall right into the game to bring jobs to there home towns where there's not enough jobs. We need to utilize the same policies to for transportation rather than jet fighter engines. As a result we fail to utilize our resources properly. Why can't DC lead the way. Otherwise it seems about self serving interests only.

by kshah on May 28, 2010 11:24 am • linkreport

why should DC care whether the cars are made in Boise or Brno?

sustainability, and about a hundred other reasons, but sustainability, like 'place', is going to continue to rise in importance, exponentially so. imagine this scenario in five years or less -- China and India will be seen as attacking the United States for merely going about their normal productive lives producing cars and carbon in ever-increasing quantities. they'll be helping us to cause resource wars all over the globe, many in places where US elites have economics interests (we have them everywhere, it seems).

you know what happens when the US says, "Hey China, you'd better stop being mean to Mother Earth."?

China's gonna say, "[quizzical look] F U."

and then it gets fun. and it's not gonna be rich Americans who pay -- it's gonna be everyone else, including and especially our children and grandchildren. they truly have no idea what they're in for.

besides the very real and likely-as-in-already-happening-doom-and-gloom scenario, think of how absurd it is to build some big, metal piece of junk in Europe and ship it overseas to America. only a truly failed political system could allow this to happen.

As others have said, we destroyed our mass transit vehicle production industry decades ago

yes, by design. and by design, we could easily bring that industry back. if the federal government decided GM should start making streetcars in all those closed down car factories, they/we could do it. quickly. cheaply, relatively speaking. and it would be great for most americans, but 'most americans' is not who owns and controls this place.

We spend billions on making military apparatuses in the US and Law makers fall right into the game to bring jobs to there home towns where there's not enough jobs.

agreed. we can use our resources for productive things, or destructive things -- we too often choose 'destructive'. we're not different than the Easter Islanders who built massive statues instead of building useful things, and in the process gutted their forests, leaving the land barren, and everyone eventually starved to death. we can still change course, though, because unlike the Easter Islanders, we have recorded history as a warning.

also, the manufacturing sector of every form of (motorized) transportation is subsidized (car, bus, train, plane -- hate me some plane) -- if we can use gargantuan sums of taxpayer money to build a several-use-only spaceship to lollygag around the thermosphere, we can spend some money to build a few streetcars every few years to actually, you know, do useful things for US taxpayers. and that's exactly how United Streetcar in Portland got started. it's too little too late, but we can at least continue in that direction.

@Peter - I'm sorry, I meant the new taxes. Bracketed as you describe, naturally the 90% not paying the new taxes would be in favour of them.

to this i'd say, "well it's about time you all payed your fair share -- thanks for finally contributing." am i or anyone else in that 90% going to be upset that we uncap liability against BP, or demand they pay back taxpayers for services already rendered and to-be-rendered, and that they stop getting multi-billion dollar direct and indirect subsidies? no - they _should_ start to pay their fair share -- everyone should -- corporations, non-destructive businesses, people, etc.

Peter, we want equality through uplift, not capital flight.

there _are_ all sorts of capital flight problems, but it has little to nothing to do with people and their money moving from one jurisdiction/state to another, and everything to do with international capital flight, unregulated money flows, etc. [@see Financialization of the Economy, Wall Street Doom, etc.]

I owe the poor of DC roughly the same obligations I owe the poor of Maryland

i don't know that anyone owes the poor anything -- what we owe DC, Maryland, Virginia, and the US Federal Government is our fair share, and if we're not among the poorest, we're not paying it. The more money you make, the less likely it is that you are paying your fair share, based on the facts of the actual tax distribution, and my opinion that the absolute bare minimum we should accept as a society is a flat tax, where everyone pays in at the same effective tax rate (ideally, we'd have a progressive tax system).

I'm willing to pay for the difference, but there is a cost benefit analysis.

cool -- everyone is going to value things differently. i'm not blaming anyone for moving - for doing whatever - i just want DC (and every place) to be awesome, and that, I believe, requires a much greater degree if income and social equality -- thus, i advocate for raising taxes on those who are not yet paying their fair share, in my opinion, and those same folks happen to be thes one most easily able to afford it -- what convenience! :)

speaking of raising taxes, it always seems like candidates who do it are labeled as 'populists', as if doing what most people want is a bad thing. kinda funny. we need a non-corporate media. GGW is helping there. sweet!

by Peter Smith on May 28, 2010 2:24 pm • linkreport

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