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Posts about Kwame Brown


Bowser, Bulger get WMATA Board, Wells gets planning

The WMATA Board, which has already had most members change in the last year, will see even more turnover as Kwame Brown plans to strip Tommy Wells of his seat along with the transportation committee today.

Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

Muriel Bowser would instead represent the DC Council as a voting member, Freeman Klopott reported. Bowser currently chairs the regional Transportation Planning Board. Kwame Brown also recently nominated lobbyist Tom Bulger to replace Michael A Brown as an alternate on the WMATA Board.

In addition to getting oversight of libraries, parks and recreation, Wells would gain oversight of the Office of Planning, says Mike DeBonis. Bowser has transportation expertise and a demonstrated commitment to Metro, and OP is an important agency to oversee. But both moves undermine Brown's stated rationale for rearranging the committees.

The vote hasn't yet been taken. Keep telling Kwame Brown and the council what you think by calling Brown's office at (202) 724-8032 and emailing the council.

Brown, and his number two Mary Cheh, claimed this morning that the change is not vengeful but rather an attempt to better align committees with subject areas. Cheh oversees environmental issues, and she said Brown wants to reunite the environment with public works and transportation. All three were part of a single committee before 2008.

According to Wells, Brown offered the WMATA Board seat to Cheh as well, but she turned it down. If his goal really were to unite policy areas under one committee, he'd have pushed Cheh to either take the seat or not take the committee. Or, if his motive hadn't been payback, he could have just let Wells keep his seat.

Having oversight of planning could give Wells the opportunity to help OP move forward on its zoning rewrite and continue or even expand its good work on neighborhood plans around DC. But OP needs Wells' oversight far less than DDOT, WMATA, the Taxi Commission, and the other transportation agencies do.

And if unifying the Department of the Environment with transportation in a single committee makes sense, it would make even more sense to put it with planning and parks, both of which have a significant environmental impact as well. A Committee on Planning, the Environment, Parks and Recreation seems even more logical than a Committee on Public Works, the Environment, and Transportation.

It still seems evident that this move was motivated more by politics than common sense. That's why Tom Sherwood called Brown's justification for the transportation change "paper thin."

Wells and the other new members of the Board went through many days of orientation to learn the ins and outs of WMATA's operations, budget, policies and safety issues. In doing so, several have said they built up strong working relationships that can foster regional cooperation. Bowser will now have to learn the same material over from scratch, but without the camaraderie that Wells developed. Again, DC will lose momentum, expertise, and relationships, all because of Brown's pique.

Last year, the WMATA Board came under criticism for members acting parochially, which most everyone knew was code for Jim Graham (ward 1)'s penchant for favoring Ward 1 transportation projects. In the last budget, Bowser showed a very parochial attitude toward city programs, focusing entirely on her own ward. Will she do the same on the WMATA Board, pushing needed transportation enhancements for Ward 4 but at the expense of other parts of the city?

Bulger's son ran Brown's Ward 3 operation in his campaign for chair. The Council held roundtable on the nomination last week, but seems never to have posted it anywhere on the Council site; I have an automated system that monitors the calendar for changes, and the word "Bulger" didn't appear until Sunday when it popped up as part of today's Committee of the Whole agenda.

Bulger runs Government Relations, Inc., a federal lobbying firm, which used to lobby for Fairfax County (but does not today). Bulger also told me he was involved with pushing Congress to pass the current federal transit benefit.


Breaking: Kwame Brown stripping transportation committee from Tommy Wells as retribution for SUV scandal

DC Council chairman Kwame Brown plans to remove Tommy Wells from his chairmanship of the Committee on Public Works and Transportation today. This appears to be naked political payback from February, when Wells published a report on the Lincoln Navigator scandal.

Wells and Brown campaign together in 2010. Photo by hcwoodward on Flickr.

Email the Council or call Brown's office at (202) 724-8032 to express your disappointment that personal grudges are trumping good policy.

Wells supported Brown's campaign for chair, but since February, relations between Wells and Brown have been frosty. Brown blamed Wells for the report, which found that Brown violated the law.

Wells had a duty to investigate. This was a major news story, and it fell squarely in Wells' committee responsibility. Instead, Brown seems to have wanted Wells to simply bury the issue. It shows a serious failing in Brown's ethical compass when he expects this of colleagues, and those who take the honest route get punished so blatantly.

It's pretty blatant, too. Brown isn't rearranging all the committees. He's just singling out Wells for punishment.

Wells will get the Committee on Libraries, Parks and Recreation, generally considered the least desirable post one of the least desirable posts. Mary Cheh, who is still close to Brown and his number two as Chair Pro Tempore, will take over Public Works and Transportation as well as keeping the Department of the Environment. Muriel Bowser, who got Parks and Rec in January because of her support for Mayor Fenty, will get Government Operations.

Committees are rarely shifted mid-term, and only to take responsibilities away from a member facing scandal. This may be the first time in history a committee is taken away midway from a member for being honest.

Brown had the opportunity to alter committees because Harry Thomas, Jr. stepped down from the Committee on Econmic Development amid his own ethical problems. Brown moved economic development into the Committee of the Whole, under his direct control.

Vincent Orange (at-large) wanted Economic Development, but Brown didn't want to give it to him because of their rivalry in the race for chair (and, perhaps, because Orange has a poor track record on economic development).

Instead, Brown is proposing a new, smaller committee with only oversight of the Department of Small & Local Business Development and some other smaller agencies, and is keeping Economic Development in the Committee of the Whole.

Since Orange has no committee today, there's no need for any further reshuffling. But apparently Brown is still sore from the report.

Ironically, however, that report could have been the best thing for Brown. It got the issue fully into the spotlight, reducing the long drip of new scandal news. It put a fair amount of blame on the Department of Public Works as well as on Brown.

Had Brown embraced the report, apologized for his missteps, and pushed to fix policies around official vehicles for the future to stop such failures from recurring, he could have put the issue behind him.

Brown had many opportunities to start rebuilding the Council's reputation. Instead, he has continued to drag it into the gutter. He told colleagues that his own campaign finance scandals didn't go any deeper, and then they did.

The Council started the year with very high esteem among the populace, after a term of steady and effective leadership under Vincent Gray. Now, it's widely derided, and rightly so, with many of its members facing some ethical questions.

Now, he's even transferring the DC Council's voting seat on the WMATA Board. That's quite ironic. Last year, before becoming chair, Kwame Brown participated in a secretive committee to study WMATA governance, dominated by the Board of Trade. One of the better recommendations from that committee was to make board appointments based less on politics. Now, Brown is reassigning the post once again based solely on politics, and dirty personal ones at that.

By putting politics over progress, Brown is abandoning a commitment to make transportation better in DC. The people of Ward 7, where Brown himself lives, could suffer. Wells was making improving bus service east of the Anacostia a cornerstone of his chairmanship. He hosted listening sessions in wards 4, 5, 7, and 8, got WMATA to promise technological upgrades for Metrobuses east of the river, and pushed the east of the river Circulator even though it meant losing some service in Ward 6.

Cheh, on the other hand, complained in the budget that the Circulator is going east of the river but doesn't go to the Palisades. Was that just posturing for her ward, or will she really push for more transportation spending in Ward 3 over other parts of DC?

Cheh is one of the least bad alternatives to head transportation, but it'll break the forward momentum that's been built with Council working closely with DDOT. Wells' staff has a deep understanding of transportation issues, including some carried over from when Jim Graham ran the committee. That institutional memory will likely be lost.

Plus, as Brown's closest confidante on the Council, Cheh could have tried to talk him out of this move which clearly makes him look petty. Does she also think keeping Brown's scandals quiet is the top public policy goal for the Council? Or is she sore with Tommy Wells for stymieing her plan to pretend to support the bond tax in place of an income tax, but then try to get both out of the budget?

DDOT is at a crossroads. New Director Terry Bellamy, formerly Gabe Klein's deputy, could aggressively move to implement the ambitious Action Agenda that Klein put together, including pedestrian safety, bikeshare expansion, cycle tracks, bus priority lanes, real-time bus information, Circulator expansion, performance parking and more.

Or, Bellamy could let inertia win out, not making the tough calls and allowing projects to stagnate when the public isn't unified for or against them, as they usually aren't. Wells and his team were well situated to push DDOT to achieve its potential.

By taking Wells off the committee for transparently political reasons, Brown is showing that forward progress in the District isn't foremost in his mind. Instead, punishing those who don't cover up his own ethical failings is the priority. At least now, we know exactly what kind of man we have as Chairman.

The Council typically goes along with a chairman's committee choices, but they all have to vote on the recommendation this morning. Will this Council really stand by and let Brown do this? If they do, each member will be sending the message that it's appropriate to cover up a colleague's misdeeds.

What, then, should the public assume is behind each future decision the Council makes? Or the difficult decisions they do not make? Email Brown and the Council or call Brown's office at (202) 724-8032 to remind them that this unprecedented, vindictive move will further degrade the reputations of Brown, each member who votes aye, and that of the Council as a whole.

Update: Mary Cheh has sent me the following statement:

Kwame decided to reshuffle and make more coherent committee functions. And yesterday he told me of his plan to emphasize the environmental work in one committee, bringing back environment to public works and transportation (stormwater, recycling and waste management, transportation policy, pollution and vehicles, etc. brought together with environmental policy) and he offered the committee to me. I jumped at it and am very enthusiastic.
The argument about making committees more coherent makes little sense when he's also splitting up the traditional Economic Development functions into smaller committees to limit Vincent Orange. We all know why this one area is being singled out. I'm disappointed that Cheh is defending such an ethically suspect move.


Kwame Brown pushing tax cuts over his prior promises

When passing DC's FY 2012 budget, DC Council Chairman Kwame Brown and many other members patted themselves on the back for staving off some of the worst cuts to important services. But avoiding many of the cuts depended on extra revenue, and ultimately got bumped for other priorities.

Photo by dbking on Flickr.

Now, Freeman Klopott reports that Brown is trying to find more money in the budget. But instead of funding these priorities which got left behind, Brown is pushing instead to repeal a tax increase that hits mainly wealthy residents, saying that has been his top priority all along.

That's news, since when Brown released his version of budget in June, he had 4 items ahead of that in his own priority list, and only 2 have been funded so far. Instead of restoring the bond tax exemption, he should pay for Housing First, the Housing Production Trust Fund, and the other foregone priorities.

Mayor Gray's original budget proposal included a hike of 0.4% on income over $200,000, which Brown focused much of his effort on eliminating. He ultimately hit on the idea of replacing it with a measure ending the tax exemption on out of state municipal bonds, an exemption that has been eliminated in all other states which had one.

While his rhetoric argued this was fairer, it was clear he really wanted to reverse the change when DC's revenue estimates turned rosier, as was expected.

Brown addressed the future "unanticipated revenues" through a list of conditional budget items, which would get funded in priority order depending on how much extra money comes in. $21.567 million also goes to the capital budget and 50% of the remainder goes to the reserve fund, so the rightmost column shows how much "unanticipated revenue" there would need to be to get up to that specific item.

ItemCostTotal 2012
UR needed
1. Hiring more police$10.8$43.2
2. Housing First (homeless housing)$1.6$46.4
3. Housing Production Trust Fund (affordable housing)$12.0$70.4
4. Mental illness services (housing and children's services)$5.5$81.4
5. Restoring bond exemption for pre-10/1/2011 bonds$13.4$108.2
6. Keeping MLK Library open on Sundays$0.3$108.8
7. Main Streets green teams$1.8$112.4
8. Parking rates lowered to $1/hr in busiest areas$3.0$118.4
9. Buying books for libraries$1.4$121.3
10. Early childhood education$2.0$125.3
All figures in millions.

But the Council had a few other ideas. Tommy Wells successfully passed an amendment to replace restoring the bond exemption with a set of other items: interim disability, affordable housing, children's mental health, and homeless services. He had to give Vincent Orange $500,000 to throw a party at the Lincoln Theater, where Orange serves on the board, to get enough votes.

Between first and second reading, the Gray administration disclosed a large spending pressure for FY 2012 involving healthcare providers for DC's Medicaid and DC Alliance programs that went onto the top of the list. The Council then moved the Green Teams to the top.

Meanwhile, there was also some "unanticipated revenue" in FY2011, the current budget year. The mayor proposes to use that to fund the Medicaid costs, school nurses, police, and mental health services, all of which would then come off the list for how to spend FY2012 money.

Finally, the FY2012 "unanticipated revenue" estimate is $77 million at the moment, enough to just fund the green teams and the rest of the Medicaid costs. That could increase or decrease in the future.

This list summarizes all the items and how they will be funded with 2011 or 2012 money under the current estimates. Items in green are currently slated to get funded, while red items are not. As above, the rightmost column shows the total amount of "unanticipated revenue" needed for that item and all above it to get funded.

ItemCost2011Total 2012
UR needed
1. Main Streets green teams$1.8$25.2
2. Payments to Medicaid managed care companies$32.0$6.0$77.2
3. School nurses$12.5$12.5
4. Hiring more police$10.8$10.8
5. Housing First (homeless housing)$1.6$80.4
6. Housing Production Trust Fund (affordable housing)$12.0$104.4
7. Mental illness services (housing and children's services)$3.5$3.51
8. Interim disability, affordable housing, children's mental health, homeless services, and Vincent Orange's party$13.4$131.2
9. Keeping MLK Library open on Sundays$0.3$131.8
10. Parking rates lowered to $1/hr in busiest areas$3.02$137.8
11. Buying books for libraries$1.4$140.6
12. Early childhood education$2.0$144.6
All figures in millions.
1 The original item listed $5.5 million, but the administration now thinks they can cover the remainder through savings in the existing mental health budget.
2 Due to an error by the budget office, $3 million isn't enough to revert all $2/hour meters to $1/hour.

This is the Council's priority list. If more money comes available, whether found elsewhere in the budget or through increases in "unanticipated revenue," it should go to these priorities.

What it shouldn't go toward is reverting the bond tax exemption. Brown himself declared a list of priorities that put Housing First and affordable housing, well, first—or at least ahead of reversing the bond tax.

It's disappointing that now he wants to go after that again, even though higher priorities on his own list are still not funded, and the Council made clear that it wants to restore cuts to services instead with extra money. Brown should follow the Council's wishes, rather than putting first his own priorities which aren't even shared by most DC residents.


DC officials tweet, but with varying enthusiasm

Twitter can be a powerful tool for politicians and government agencies to connect with constituents. Many of DC's elected leaders are on Twitter, but they use their accounts to widely varying degrees.

Photo by William Hook on Flickr.

Their tweets also vary in frequency and quality, and some officials tweet personally while staff send out tweets for others. Which are the best and the worst?

Tommy Wells (@TommyWells) is the most active councilmember on Twitter and sends all his tweets himself. He often tweets about riding the bus, council hearing proceedings, and constituent issues in Ward 6. Washington City Paper recently named him "Best Tweeting DC Politician."

Councilmembers Muriel Bowser (@MurielBowser) and Yvette Alexander (@CMYMA) are active on Twitter and tweet fairly regularly. They use their accounts to respond to questions, retweet others and often take conversational approaches with their tweets. Wells, Bowser and Alexander are good about replying to questions, too.

Michael Brown (@CMMichaelABrown) and Jack Evans (@Jack Evans_Ward2) send moderate numbers of tweets, though it appears their staff do the work for them. They retweet fairly regularly and promote their schedules and news. You can often get an reply from them too, or at least links to find out more about an issue.

Mary Cheh (@MaryCheh) is less active than Evans or Brown and primarily promotes her news and updates, though occasionally she will send replies. Her account will be fairly active for a couple days, and then be silent for a stretch. It seems that staff tweet for her.

David Catania has two accounts, though neither is him personally. One is @CataniaPress, which promotes news and information about him. The other is @Catania_COS, his chief of staff, who engages more directly with followers and constituents.

Chairman Kwame Brown has an account, @KwameBrownDC which primarily mentions where the chairman has been and what visits he makes to groups and organizations in the city. It seems that staff tweet for him as well Brown does manage his own account. He often sends replies but rarely retweets. The account was also silent from February 17th to April 2nd, when the SUV scandal was in top gear.

Jim Graham, Harry Thomas and Vincent Orange all have accounts, though they rarely use them. Graham's account, @JimGraham_Ward1 last tweeted June 14 and is only following 27 people. When the account is active, it primarily promotes news and updates from his office.

Harry Thomas's account, @HLTJrWard5, hasn't been active since March 14th. Vincent Orange used Twitter during the April 26th special election campaign, but his account, @VincentOrangeDC last tweeted on May 12th and is only following 55 people.

Councilmembers Marion Barry and Phil Mendelson do not have accounts.

Mayor Vincent Gray has a Twitter account, @MayorVinceGray, run by his communications staff. At first, the account primarily promoted the mayor's schedule, but recently has started engaging more with followers and residents.

For those councilmembers who don't use Twitter regularly, does it matter? Barry doesn't have an account, but that doesn't mean he is less popular in Ward 8. It also doesn't necessarily mean he is not engaging with his constituents.

Twitter certainly isn't the only way to engage with constituents. Not everyone is savvy with the technology or has regular internet access. Others may find it overwhelming to use. But Twitter can be an effective way for councilmembers to address constituent concerns and provide a sense of connection with residents.

Some of the more active councilmembers, like Wells, Bowser, and Alexander, can help make government somewhat more responsive and approachable. Other accounts, like Cheh and Kwame Brown, occasionally engage with residents and at least provide a medium for getting information.

Should councilmembers be managing their own accounts or is it better to have a staff member do it? Wells, Bowser and Alexander seem tweet themselves and are able to engage more than others. During the protest over Congressional budget riders, Wells' account stopped sending tweets the moment his staff (@CharlesAllenDC and @AnnePhelps) tweeted pictures of his arrest. Michael Brown's account, on the other hand, tweeted pictures of Brown himself wearing handcuffs.

Many District agencies, like DCRA and DDOT, have used Twitter with great success to answer questions and address complaints. Now the Office of Planning has joined the flock, too.

Which officials' tweets do you find most useful? How would you like to see others improve?


Public officials choosing private schools: is it our business?

Several members of the DC Council don't send their kids to public schools. Should voters care, or is it a private matter? These important private choices of public officials do tell us something about the beliefs of our elected leaders, but we shouldn't read too much into them.

Gonzaga College High School, where one of Jack Evans' kids goes. Photo by methTICALman on Flickr.

The Washington Examiner recently pointed out that Councilmembers Vincent Orange and Jack Evans send their kids to private schools.

Councilmember Phil Mendelson and Chairman Kwame Brown both send their kids to a DCPS school, Eaton Elementary, but it's a short walk for Mendelson and a 9-mile drive for Brown, who is "out of boundary." Harry Thomas, Jr. sends one child to private school and two to a public charter school.

Should we care?

As families lock in their school enrollment choices for the coming fall, education writers perennially "investigate" public officials' choices of schools for their children, while public school defenders and detractors have at it. A recurring backlash to these stories asks whether any of this matters.

Is it an existential test of our leaders' faith in public education? Is it a sign of the economic gaps between our leaders, who have choices and money for tuition and transportation, and the people they serve? Or is it a private issue about each child's unique needs?

The question comes up when we elect a president with school-aged children. Perhaps the president's children have special security concerns, and most don't expect the First Family to be "regular people." But we see articles about where lawmakers send their kids, like in Texas and even the U.S. Education Secretary. Here in DC, many expect their councilmembers to reflect their constituents.

The Examiner's listing of the school each councilmember's family chose for their children—private or public, charter or DCPS, out-of-boundary or a neighborhood school—suggests an implicit hierarchy of "common man" virtue, with a private school being the most elitist, and a neighborhood school, preferably one with low proficiency rates (the Examiner lists these), being the most virtuous.

Where public officials send their children to school may tell us something about their beliefs, but further investigation often leads people to ask intrusive questions about children's needs and those questions should not be public matters. If CM Thomas has a child who wants more time in a baseball pitching rotation or had a preference for language immersion, is that important for us to know? What if his child were autistic or were being bullied?

Former Mayor Adrian Fenty and former Chancellor Michelle Rhee were each called out for sending their children to out-of-boundary DCPS schools, Lafayette ES and Oyster-Adams Bilingual ES, respectively. Was there any inconsistency between their public policies and private choices? In this case, not at all. In fact, exercising choice within the public school system is probably a good example to set, as long as they did not have any unfair advantages.

If they apply like anyone else and play by the rules, then they have a private duty to find the best school for their children, even while they work publicly to improve all schools for all children. If every parent tried to enroll their children in Lafayette or Oyster, then it would provide a useful signal that those schools may need to be expanded, or that those schools' successful programs be replicated elsewhere.

If you want to be judgmental, the sharpest dividing line is between the public and private sectors. The public sector, which includes out-of-boundary and charter schools, is qualitatively distinct from the private sector. It is subject to stricter regulation and oversight. There is no tuition, and every child, regardless of family income, has the same right to attend, with applicants admitted by random drawing where demand exceeds supply.

Finally, transportation is an important factor in school choice that is rarely discussed in education debates. A neighborhood school is usually a walkable school. The farther parents send their kids, the more time is spent in transit, and more cars and buses crowd the roads.

But commutes to school might not be such a bad thing, even in a city like DC that aspires to good urbanism. The availability of school choice means that the choice of a school and the choice of a neighborhood do not have to be linked. This leaves greater possibilities for racial and social integration.

For example, the chairman of the city council can live east of the Anacostia River and still send his kids to schools in a more affluent part of town. Affluent residents of upper Northwest can send their children to an innovative charter school that is located in a transitional or poor neighborhood in Northeast. A blighted neighborhood can be more a attractive place for homeowners to invest if they have more school options than the one in the neighborhood.

Breaking the link between housing and schooling is one way to reduce segregation in housing, schooling, or both. Now to complete this utopian picture maybe Chairman Brown can leave the SUV at home and show his kids how to ride transit to school.


Budget released; good for transportation, worse for others

DC Council Chairman Kwame Brown released his proposed budget last night. Many transportation priorities will get funded, despite removing graduated RPP. The income tax is replaced with a tax on out-of-state bonds. And many services for the less fortunate remain in limbo.

Photo by quotlumen on Flickr.

Brown's budget proposal maintains transportation programs funded in Mayor Gray's budget and Tommy Wells' additions. Streetcars still get $100 million of capital dollars, $25 million this year. Capital Bikeshare gets $2 million for 40 more stations, meaning DDOT will need your ideas at tonight's meeting to add to locations already proposed.

Metro also gets the money it needs to avoid almost all service cuts. With Maryland and Virginia already ready to contribute, DC's decision should ensure that weekend Metrorail headways don't increase and some bus lines won't get cut, like the E6, whose riders rallied strongly for the line. The N8 and K1 lines are still slated for elimination.

Wells' other measures to fund green alleys, add a few key jobs including a parking manager to DDOT, and keep the Circulator fare at $1 all remain. RPP fees will go up to $35 per car, but will stay flat regardless of how many cars each person owns.

Where does the money come from? Mayor Gray's budget shifted a lot of jobs from the capital to operating budget, mostly in DDOT and OCTO. Doing this saves money in the long run, since capital spending is paid for by borrowing, and that costs interest. Brown's budget reduces this shift, but would put back $21.567 million for it if future revenue estimates come in higher than current estimates, as everyone expects they will.

Some revenue measures proposed by the Mayor remain, including combined reporting, raising the parking tax from 12 to 18%, and allowing liquor sales until midnight. The sales tax on theater tickets and live entertainment events is gone, but sales taxes on armored car services, private investigators and security services remain.

The biggest tax increase, the income tax bracket on people making over $200,000 (which was very popular with DC residents), is gone as Kwame Brown promised. But he's replaced it with another tax measure, removing the exemption for out-of-state bonds that only DC and Indiana offers.

Bringing DC's tax treatment of bonds in line with 49 50 other states makes a lot of sense. Still, replacing the income tax for this is less progressive; the Fair Budget Coalition says ¾ of the savings goes to people making over $200,000, meaning ¼ of this measure will hit households with lower incomes. The proposed income tax, on the other hand, would have only affected those making more than $200,000 and really only strongly affected those making significantly more.

In the past, many councilmembers have opposed the bond measure. Brown seems to be seeking their support by offering to repeal part of this exemption with potential future revenue estimates. However, any repeal would only apply to bonds purchased before October 1, 2011. Any bonds bought after that are going to be taxed regardless, at least unless the Council passes a separate tax repeal before next year.

There's a long list of priorities for what to buy if there are indeed rosier budget outlooks from the CFO's office in coming months. After the $21.567 million for the capital to operating shift, 50% of any additional money would replenish DC's reserve fund and the other 50% would pay for a number of other items.

The table below lists the items and by how much the revenue outlook has to increase in order for that item to get funded under Brown's formula.

ItemCostTotal revenue
increase needed
1. Hiring more police$10.8$43.2
2. Housing First (homeless services)$1.6$46.4
3. Housing Production Trust Fund (affordable housing)$12.0$70.4
4. Mental illness services (housing and children's services)$5.5$81.4
5. Restoring bond exemption for pre-10/1/2011 bonds$13.4$108.2
6. Keeping MLK Library open on Sundays$0.3$108.8
7. Commercial Revitalization Program (Main Streets)$1.8$112.4
8. Parking rates lowered to $1/hr in busiest areas$3.0$118.4
9. Buying books for libraries$1.4$121.3
10. Early childhood education$2.0$125.3
All figures in millions.

The housing for homeless (#2), bond exemption (#5), and parking meter reduction (#8) only kick in if all the revenue is available to fully fund that particular item; if not, the funding goes to the next priority. That means if the future estimate is $90 million more, as Jack Evans predicted, then the money would go to police, homeless, affordable housing, mental illness, (skipping the bonds since it's not enough), the MLK library, Main Streets, (skipping parking), and then buying books. That would be an irony if Evans' guess is right and it means his priorities, the ones that just lower revenues, all get skipped.

Parking rates would decrease if revenue estimates grow by $91.6 million to $108.1 million (which doesn't fund the bond repeal), or $118.4 million or more (which does). Nobody knows what the revenue estimate will be, but Evans' guess of $90 million was seen as high last week. Kwame Brown guessed $20-60 million, which might not be enough to pay for any of these priorities, or might be enough just to fund police and restore some homeless services and a tiny bit of the affordable housing.

This budget isn't bad, but the Housing Production Trust Fund and other programs deserve to be saved even without such extreme jumps in the revenue outlook. Housing First saves the District money by housing homeless people who would otherwise end up in expensive emergency rooms, and the HPTF builds housing including in parts of the city where there's vacant land that the market can't otherwise fill with units for people who might live there.

Brown could keep the income tax hike or just repay the reserve fund less aggressively. While it's great to build up the reserve, it's also important to invest in programs that help save DC money in the long run and keep our city a diverse place with people of many different income levels.

Updates: A few details to note:

  • Indiana has eliminated their exemption for out-of-state bonds, leaving DC as the only "state" with the rule.
  • As with all non-emergency, non-temporary legislation, the Council has to pass this on two readings. The first will be today, the second June 14.
  • Weekend and evening parking will not be changed under Brown's proposal.


No 2:00 am budget surprises please, Kwame Brown

DC Council Chairman Kwame Brown should release his final budget proposal at least 24 hours before the final vote scheduled for Wednesday, May 25. Greater Greater Washington has joined 40 organizations and individuals in a letter asking Chairman Brown to take this step toward greater transparency and accountability in the DC government.

Photo by dbking on Flickr.

Recent budgets haven't been released or even finished until a few hours before the final vote is scheduled. This is troublesome for the council members tasked with voting on the measure, as well as citizens affected by the details of the proposal.

Last-minute changes can cause outrage and consternation among DC residents, like last year's streetcar cuts which appeared at 2:00 am and were reversed the next day.

Will there be any surprise changes in this new budget which haven't gotten much public vetting? We don't know. Releasing the budget early will give stakeholders time to review and react to the proposal, and it will allow councilmembers to cast their votes with confidence.

Providing citizens and council members early access to the final budget proposal would be a concrete step towards greater transparency. Combined with his recent ethics reform proposal, releasing the budget early will show that Chairman Brown is willing to act to create a more open, ethical, and accountable city government.

The DC Fiscal Policy Institute wrote a letter to Chairman Brown urging him to release his final budget proposal at least 24 hours before the Council is scheduled to vote. Greater Greater Washington is happy to join over 40 other organizations and individuals in this important matter. We hope that Chairman Brown will consider the suggestion and avoid any 2 am surprises on Wednesday.


Orange win would make DC Council most colorful in history

Tomorrow is the DC Council special election. Many voters are still pondering whether to vote for the candidate with the best chance to beat Vincent Orange, or for whomever they like most.

Unfortunately, it's far from clear which candidate could best beat Orange, since we have no good polls. If everyone who wanted Weaver to win voted for him, would he win? Mara seems to be surging, but is he really, and is that enough?

Since I can't give any more useful insight into the race, here's a totally frivolous chart showing the number of people with colors for names over time.

Orange himself is the man who started the current rainbow trend when he succeeded Harry Thomas, Sr. as Ward 5 councilmember in 1999. Before that, there were no colors on the council or as mayor. Now, we have a Gray as mayor, a Brown as chair, and another Brown as at-large member.

An Orange victory tomorrow would mean four colors in office, constituting every one of them who's ever served.

Plus, we have ANC Commissioners Gale Black (4A08), Keith Silver (6C01), Sylvia Brown (7C04), Lisa White (7D01), and Dionne Brown (8D07).

This chart excludes foreign-language color names. Carol Schwartz's last name derives from the German word "schwarz," which means... black.

Thanks to Steve Offutt for the list of ANC commissioners and Eric Fidler for the German.


Mayor, Councilmembers arrested; what's next?

Mayor Gray, Kwame Brown, Tommy Wells, Muriel Bowser, Yvette Alexander, Sekou Biddle and Michael Brown were arrested by Capitol Police along with several other activists today, protesting Congress' abusing their power to step on DC's rights to make its own governance decisions.

Photo by Anne Phelps.

According to various press reports and tweets they will be charged with misdemeanor "unlawful assembly," which comes with a $50 fine. The DC Office of the Attorney General would have to prosecute, which raises the interesting question of whether they can simply use their prosecutorial discretion to ignore the charge.

Vincent Orange, who along with Biddle is considered the front-runner for the April 26 special election, attended but didn't join in the civil disobedience. Dorothy Douglas moved to the curb when asked by the police.

Several people asked, where was Eleanor Holmes Norton? And where were the DC Republicans?

In one of my favorite tweets not directly about the incident, Wells' chief of staff, Charles Allen, wrote: "It's a walkable community. Just walked from protest site to the jail cell. #dcfightsback"

Several people have asked, what's next? How about again tomorrow?

Markus Batchelor, recently Youth Mayor of DC, is looking into getting a youth protest together for next week, when DCPS is on break.

The DC government also provides a lot of assistance to the feds, like MPD clearing streets for motorcades or special federal events. Should they stop doing this? Are there ways the DC government can or should itself be civilly disobedient?

What else?

Many DC residents are cheering their leaders today. Those that showed up and got arrested took a great step for DC rights today. But we can't stop here.

Residents and elected officials alike have to keep this energy going, whether it's with more protests or other acts that draw attention to DC's cause. More people may need to get arrested.

And what can make this issue get more attention far outside the Beltway?

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