Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Kwame Brown

Budget


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, firstor 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.

Government


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?

Education


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 childrenprivate or public, charter or DCPS, out-of-boundary or a neighborhood schoolsuggests 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


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.

Government


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.

Politics


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.

Government


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?

Budget


Gray budget generally good for transportation

Mayor Gray released his proposed budget on Friday. It makes deep cuts in many areas, especially social services, but makes some exciting investments in transit funding, especially a big commitment to the streetcar program.


Photo by DDOTDC on Flickr.

Besides a capital investment in streetcars, the budget maintains Circulator funding and gives WMATA a small increase, but not enough to stave off Metro service cuts. Off-street parking taxes raise general revenue and will also create incentives for employers to stop subsidizing parking.

Streetcars. The budget contains $99 million from now until 2017 to make a substantial start on the District's streetcar system. DOT is also hoping to get some federal match and private sector funding from property owners and businesses who would benefit, to magnify the effect of this money.

Which lines will get built will depend on many factors, but DDOT's transit head Scott Kubly said they are hoping to advance lines through Anacostia, over the 11th Street bridge and over to the Southwest Waterfront, and also to extend the H Street/Benning Road on both ends to Benning Road Metro in Ward 7 and K Street downtown.

Circulator. There's $12 million in Circulator funding. Kubly believes that's enough to extend the Union Station-Navy Yard line across the South Capitol Street bridge to Anacostia, Skyland and the Giant shopping center.

DDOT has already canceled the Mall route and plans to suspend the Convention Center-Waterfront one. It will also go ahead with plans to expand hours on Union Station-Navy Yard, reroute that line to pick up on Columbus Circle and take a more direct route along 2nd Street, add ADA features to the buses, and the other immediate steps in the plan.

Metro. There's a $6.2 million more for WMATA, which the budget document claims is a 4.7% increase. That just happens to be exactly the same percentage as the Maryland draft budget.

WMATA had asked for a $32.6 million increase to avoid any service cuts. Had the DC budget included a bigger increase than Maryland's, and given that Virginia counties are likely to offer more, it would put pressure on Maryland to do better. Instead, DC seems to be giving tacit agreement that 4.7% is what Metro will get.

Without more, Metro will be forced to increase rail headways and cut buses. While there may be a few bus cuts that make sense, this will surely go farther. We managed to avoid service cuts to transit for two tough years; it would be too bad to lose vital service that people of all incomes depend upon just as an economic recovery seems within reach.

However, I'm not sure this is actually a 4.7% increase. It seems that they only increased the local bus contribution by 4.7%, not the overall subsidy. A 4.7% increase across the board should be $11.6 million, not 6.2.

It's a little bit tricky to tell in this budget. Gray's budget staff have made a strong commitment to transparency in this budget, after being frustrated by some very opaque Fenty budgets. In transportation, however, two things are going on simultaneously that make it hard to follow.

First, they are moving a lot of money from one section to another, like transferring the WMATA subsidy into its own section, moving money between capital and operating, and more. Second, some budget areas are increasing and decreasing. As a result, there are large areas that go from zero to tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, and others that move in reverse. That makes it difficult to follow which functions within DDOT will end up with more budget and more staff, and which with less.

Capital Bikeshare. The budget calls for accepting advertising on Capital Bikeshare stations, for total revenue of about $500,000 a year.

The money will go into the general fund. That's helpful to close a big budget gap and avoid even deeper cuts to important social services. However, many had hoped the money could go toward expansion and making Capital Bikeshare self-sustaining.

There's an argument that advertising revenue from city programs that can earn some revenue should also help contribute to other functions that can't, like education, public safety or social programs. There's also a strong argument for creating programs which can run like businesses, earn their own money and spend it to grow themselves and also add value for residents.

Off-street parking tax. The tax on parking garage spaces would rise from 12% to 18%. Most of this will actually come from parking operators' profits rather than drivers, according to people familiar with the parking industry. That's because the overall demand for parking governs the rates right now, rather than the costs of the garages and operations.

Nevertheless, Barbara Lang, head of the DC Chamber of Commerce and author of the atrocious transition report about getting commuters in and out of DC, hates the plan. She said that "people that are going to be impacted are people like me who provide parking for their employees."

That sounds like an added benefit to this plan, not a drawback. Not only does DC raise some revenue but the organizations which are most distorting the transportation market get an incentive to stop. People who pay each day to park already are shelling out for parking. They know it's not free. They are making an economic choice between driving and other modes, and some have few alternatives.

But when Lang or another employer provides free parking but doesn't provide free SmartBenefits, the employee isn't choosing between the cost of Metro and the cost of driving. They're choosing between paying the cost of Metro themselves or having their employer pay for the parking. That's a huge incentive to drive even if transit is a great alternative.

In addition to raising the parking tax, DC should also finally get around to closing the free-parking loophole with the "Clean Air Compliance Fee," which would also charge a similar rate to employers who own their own garages and therefore don't pay a parking company for spaces. Barbara Lang hates that, idea, too. That could be another sign that it's another great public policy.

Other taxes. Another measure institutes "combined reporting," which ensures multi-state businesses pay a share of their taxes to DC instead of sheltering it in other states. This is a sensible measure and somewhat overdue.

Finally, the budget contains a tax increase on incomes over $200,000. I've endorsed a tax on high income earners before. Several councilmembers, including Kwame Brown and Jack Evans, and several candidates for the at-large seat have already come out against the budget on those grounds. It'd be interesting to see if they can find an alternative to the $35 million this will raise.

Already, this budget does hit the poor fairly hard, including cuts to affordable housing and homeless services. Some of this could end up costing DC more in the long run, like homeless people who might end up in emergency rooms far more often as a result.

In upcoming articles, we'll look at some other potential revenue sources and other elements of the budget.

This article originally said the Convention Center-Waterfront Circulator had already been canceled. DDOT is proposing to suspend it but has not yet done so.

Government


Don't let scandal outrage lead to bad policy

Washingtonians are rightly dismayed and upset by recent scandals, including Lincoln Navigators and Sulaimon Brown. We should demand the highest standards from leaders. However, we should also beware that righteous indignation can quickly transform into unstoppable pressure for very bad policies.


Photo by Mike Licht on Flickr.

These revelations in the news are indeed troubling. As one who did support Gray (as a few commenters never tire of pointing out), I too am very disappointed to read them.

Residents and opinion leaders should beware of a natural tendency to want to go after everyone in government with a metaphorical meat cleaver, however. In particular, we should be very skeptical about proposals to restrict the pay of top administration officials or cut the pay of councilmembers.

A great department head can save millions of dollars by managing projects better, hiring more capable staff, and avoiding costly mistakes. In the private sector, a good leader can make very good money. We should rightly condemn paying anyone six-figure salaries if that person isn't qualified to do a job, but we also shouldn't hesitate to pay six figures to someone who'll pay for his or her own salary several times over.

Likewise, there seems to be a growing groundswell to have Councilmembers cut their own pay following revelations that they're more highly paid than most city legislators. Besides the instant counterargument that the DC Council fills the role of both state and city legislature, the fact is that we want good legislators.

Low pay for legislators just means that only wealthy people can afford to run for office. The average citizen would not run for Council if it meant he couldn't pay his rent. Nor is part time legislating the answer. The Virginia legislature meets for two months a year and has almost no time to consider bills, leading to many measures being hastily passed or rejected.

Cutting pay is also incompatible with the other, more worthy criticism of the Council that some of its members hold down one or even two other jobs, some of which raise at least the appearance of a conflict of interest. Personally, I'd rather pay our legislators more and expect them to work full time as a result.

After the Metro crash in 2009, many people started criticizing everything related to Metro and everyone in any sort of leadership position, whether or not that person had anything to do with the crash or had made any mistakes at all.

In blog comment threads, people called for drastic and unrealistic measures from putting all Board members in jail to complete federal takeovers. That last option wasn't just confined to blogs but emerged from the mouths of United States Senators, some of whom now want to cut all the funding to the agency.

The angry mob approach may generate fun Twitter threads and raise traffic for area media outlets but never leads to good policy.

That's the real danger in these scandals. There's some actual harm that comes from having an ill-advised car or hiring someone inappropriately. There's far more in the loss of confidence in our institutions that can result, and the hasty decisions leaders might make when they're more concerned with looking good in the political columns.

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