Our first legislative session of the fall was this week, and I’m looking forward to finishing out the year on a positive note. For those of you who regularly read the Georgetowner, I recently wrote a piece highlighting a few gaps I see in our public schools and library services. Just before the summer recess, I introduced a bill to expand our library hours. This week, I introduced a bill that would require each public school to have a full time librarian, art teacher, and music teacher. It is hard for me to believe we continue to invest nearly $2 billion a year into our public schools—yes, that’s “billion”—with the highest per-pupil funding formula in the nation, and yet have the worst educational outcomes in the nation. This suggests to me our money is not being spent in the right places.
I also introduced a bill to limit the way the Council is able to intervene in the contracting process. Too often, we have seen allegations of ethical violations by members of the Council who are seen as advocating for or against a particular vendor that may have personal or campaign involvement with the member. Some of these contracts are for large amounts of money. I believe contracting should happen through a merit-based selection process insulated from political pressure.
On a related note, campaign finance reform is another area of focus for me this year. There will be a lot of discussion about new laws and regulations, even as the election cycle is in full swing, in light of the Mayor’s legislative proposal last month. Keep in mind the legal troubles several members of the government have been facing are not because the laws need changing, but rather because the laws already on the books have been allegedly violated. For ethics and campaign finance rules, I have consistently supported enhanced disclosure requirements, more rigorous enforcement when violations are discovered, and more meaningful penalties assessed on violators. Current practice is to simply assess a penalty a year after an election is already won; for example, politicians can view a penalty as simply a cost of doing business, and it is invariably paid with campaign funds rather than out of an elected official’s own pocket.
Last on the legislative front, I introduced a resolution again relating to the future possibility of a commuter tax. Many Virginia and Maryland residents take advantage of the infrastructure and business opportunities offered within the District every day, and yet don’t contribute to its upkeep through their income tax dollars. I have had productive discussions with Congressman Darrell Issa, who chairs the House Committee with oversight over the District, and believe we may have Republican support for this proposal along with concepts such as budget autonomy.
I look forward to the upcoming Council session and working on the challenges ahead.