The Jack Evans Report

September 22, 2010

 

-In my last column, I addressed two challenges (education reform and fiscal responsibility) which will face the next Council and Mayor. This election season we will elect a Mayor, Council Chair, two at large Members of the Council, and four Ward Councilmembers (Wards 1, 3, 5 and 6). The city faces five key issues which the Mayor and the Council will have to confront after all the speeches are done and the buttons and signs are put away – and these are my thoughts on the final three:

3. Creating an investment environment. Too many of our neighborhood commercial strips have languished over the past 40 years. Elected officials in town talk a lot about helping small businesses, but I’d point this out — small businesses pay the same outlandishly high tax rates as big businesses! I believe this has greatly discouraged investment in our neighborhoods. Three years ago, the Chairman and I authored legislation which reduced the commercial property tax rate from $1.85 to $1.65 for the first $3 million of a building’s value, which was quite helpful in our neighborhood commercial areas. But even the $1.65 is far higher than the surrounding jurisdictions – we’ve priced ourselves right out of competition with our neighbors, all while we hemorrhage retail spending across our borders. The business income tax rate at 9.975% is among the highest in the country, and we tax unincorporated businesses which our neighbors do not. If we are really serious about changing the business climate in DC – often ranked among the nation’s worst — we need to look long and hard at these rates if we are ever to bring more jobs and opportunities to our neighborhoods, and retain the spending power of DC residents right here in the city where it belongs.

4. Public Safety. We have made great strides over the past decade in implementing community policing, utilizing new technologies, and pinpointing resources at data-identified problem areas. We have much to celebrate — the murder rate is the lowest in 40 years. But we have a ways to go on continuing to lower robberies and theft – and we face particular problems with juvenile crimes and dysfunctionality of the juvenile justice system. These are the next areas we will need to focus on.

5. Self-determination. This area is one in which there can be either incremental or large steps. I believe a two pronged strategy will be needed to obtain statehood for the District, and/or any of the steps along the way. We will need a Mayor and Council that has a good working relationship with the Congress. Statehood ultimately is but a majority vote in the Congress, but there are issues, particularly financial ones, to address along the road to statehood. Smaller steps could be such things as budget and legislative autonomy for the District. Budget autonomy in particular would allow us to conduct a more rational budget process every year rather than the “hurry up and wait” that we suffer now as we wait for the Congress to approve our spending of our own locally-raised funds.

I believe we can achieve these things, but like many things, we’ll all have to wait until the dust settles after the election to get back to work on many of the pressing issues facing our city.

The Jack Evans Report

August 27, 2010

 

-It truly is the dog days of summer! Or, in the words of Nat King Cole, “roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer!” In this kind of heat and humidity the best thing you can do is do nothing, move as little as possible and have a cool, frosty drink nearby.

Oddly enough, those recommendations notwithstanding, we’ve been doing quite a bit in the council office lately. First of all, we’ve continued work on the Georgetown Waterfront Park, and I am happy to announce we have received a commitment from Pepco for a donation of $50,000, which fills an important gap in moving the remaining parts of the project along.

Logan Circle was busy this past weekend with the 11th annual “Dog Days” sidewalk sale events, with participation by both retailers and community groups. And just recently we helped the neighborhood secure funding from the District to help design a marketing plan for the 14th Street corridor.

In Shaw, we celebrated the grand opening of the brand new Watha T. Daniel Library, a great community resource for the neighborhood and city. As you may recall, the previous library was a big heap of unattractive concrete, often compared to a prison or a wartime bunker, which was neither inviting nor very functional. I am very proud of the hard work of my staff, the D.C. Public Library, and community stakeholders in making the new library som

In Shaw this past week, we celebrated the start of a $31 million rehabilitation of the Gibson Plaza Apartments, which will renovate the 271-unit affordable housing building with a variety of green building features, and will be funded by federal HUD funds. I am happy to report that not a single resident will be displaced by this renovation.

Whew — after all that, I think we better slow down a bit! Actually, I love getting things done and it is gratifying that we’ve been able to move forward on a number of projects in the past week or two.

Don’t forget the upcoming elections. One thing is for sure: it is going to be a very interesting month and a half.

The Jack Evans Report

August 25, 2010

 

-Our long hot summer will soon enough turn the bend of Labor Day and the September 14 primary which will select the Democratic nominee for Mayor, Council Chair and a number of races down the ballot. As many of you know, I have endorsed Mayor Adrian Fenty for reelection, but regardless of the election’s outcome, the city faces 5 key issues which the Mayor and the Council will have to confront after all the speeches are done and the buttons and signs are put away. We’ll talk about two of them today:

1. Schools. This continues to be one of the central issues facing the city, and historically has broken down like this: “rich” kids go to private or parochial schools and “poor” kids are stuck in run down schools with no future. Over the past 30 years the city has hemorrhaged middle class people, but good schools are key to retaining middle class families in the city and improving outcomes for low income kids. Mayor Fenty has made some pretty big changes, starting with authoring the Schools Facilities Modernization Financing Act as a Councilmember, and of course, as Mayor, implementing the takeover of the school system and installing Chancellor Michele Rhee as its head. As a result of the first legislation and a lot of hard work by Allen Lew and his facilities team, our school construction and maintenance efforts are the best they have been in a generation, by far. At some point credit is due to the Mayor for this. The other changes have been somewhat more controversial, but I believe Fenty and Rhee are on the right track by trying to bring more accountability into the system. My observation over the years has been this: for years we had a performance evaluation system where almost by magic no one was ever fired for lack of performance, but our schools were at the same time among the worst performing in the nation. Fenty has quite correctly identified this as fundamentally problematic and has sought to change old ways of doing business.

2. Fiscal responsibility. As Chair of the Council’s Committee on Finance and Revenue, you’ve seen me write about this topic often, and it continues to be a concern of mine. Fortunately, the District has the relative stability of the federal employment base, but in the FY 2011 budget cycle this spring, I expressed a number of concerns which all go back to this one notion: we can’t live beyond our means. For the last several years we’ve spent down revenue from our fund balances, which were once over $1.5 billion but which now are down to about $500 million. I believe the decline in our revenue — chiefly in the realm of commercial property — is not likely to return in the near term. A certain amount of our economy through the 2000’s was built on the shaky foundation of irrational exuberance. Yet the size of our government has not been restrained in proportion to the shrinking revenue. Using our fund balance the past three year has allowed us to paper over the problem, but I believe the next mayor and council won’t have this luxury — and I’ll note I was the only Member of the Council to vote against the budget this past year.

Those are the two biggest issues we’ll face next year. Next column we’ll talk about three more.

The author is a city councilmember representing District Ward 2.