The NBA Finals may have just wrapped up in Oakland, but here in Washington we had a bout of our ...
For the past several years, I have pushed my colleagues to increase arts funding to the $20 million level, allowing the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities (DCCAH) to fully achieve its goals and help keep the District a vibrant and, more critically, affordable bastion for the arts. I’m particularly pleased that I was able to finally secure $20 million to help support arts education for our children, artists across the city and the diverse community that makes Washington the most dynamic city in the country. This year, the initial budget amount was only $15 million. This significantly increased level of funding will go toward underwriting art projects, paying local artists for their work and expanding arts programs in our schools and neighborhoods. Budgets are about priorities. As many of you know, the arts have long been a high priority of mine to make our city more livable, our education system more robust and our community more diverse. All three of my triplets benefitted from exposure to the arts at a young age. As my daughter Christine finishes her first year at the Parsons School of Design and my son John finishes his freshman year studying art at the University of Pennsylvania, I’m proud that, as a city, we’re able to fund arts programming that will allow even more children to receive similar exposure. (In case anyone is wondering, my daughter Katherine just finished her first year at Elon University. She isn’t studying art, but I couldn’t be more proud of her!) While increasing funding for the arts has long been a priority for me, it’s worth noting this is less than two-tenths of one percent of our budget for the upcoming year. There are many other priorities in our budget that I’m pleased will be funded. As I previously wrote in these pages, the District’s budget once again allocated $100 million to the critical Housing Production Trust Fund; committed our full operating subsidy to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority as we continue to reform and restore our transit system; and will continue to invest more than a quarter of our funding in education. In addition, I was able to continue the tax breaks that the Council passed in 2014. To balance our needs as a city with the return of our increasing revenues to taxpayers, the tax cuts will be implemented as we hit new revenue levels. Recently, we enacted a cut to our unincorporated business franchise tax and an increase in the estate tax threshold. These cuts follow earlier reductions in low- and middle-income personal tax rates and an expansion in the Earned Income Tax Credit, among others. We continue to fund our priorities, improve our city and strengthen our finances. The work never ends, but we’ve made great strides over the past 25 years. Jack Evans is the District Council member for Ward 2, representing Georgetown and other neighborhoods since 1991.
So far, 2016 has been a great year for sports in Washington, D.C. The Capitals are in the second round of the playoffs, the Nationals have gotten off to a scorching-hot start and the George Washington University men’s basketball team won the National Invitation Tournament. On top of all that, it feels like D.C. sports are just getting started. Bryce Harper had one of the best seasons in baseball history last year, but, given such high hopes, the Nationals’ failure to make the playoffs made the season a disappointment. This year, Harper remains the brightest young star in baseball, and the Nationals are in first place. The team’s prospects seem even better than they did a year ago. Beyond the performance of the Nats, the baseball stadium and Navy Yard area is booming. If you haven’t been to Nationals Park yet this season, be prepared to be shocked by the new restaurants and residential development. We’ve been collecting taxes at a faster rate than we can pay off the bonds used to build the stadium. The success of the stadium deal is clear to see. Last week, we broke ground for the new D.C. United soccer stadium, to be completed in 2018. The new stadium will add to the economic development around the baseball stadium and the Wharf project on the waterfront to make Southwest Washington one of the most dynamic areas in the country. EventsDC, the sports and convention authority for Washington, D.C., is finalizing plans for a sports and entertainment complex in the Congress Heights neighborhood of Ward 8. While the facility will be smaller than the Verizon Center, it will still create hundreds of construction jobs for the next two years — and hundreds more staff positions at the complex, which will host concerts, community events, Mystics games and Wizards practices. It will attract investment and visitors to the Congress Heights neighborhood. EventsDC has also released various proposals for the current RFK Stadium site on the banks of the Anacostia River, including a plan to build a brand new football stadium. The proposal wouldn’t just allow the Washington Redskins to return to their namesake city; it would, like the Verizon Center and Nats Park, spur the construction of new retail, hotels, and businesses, creating jobs for District residents. These sports and entertainment facilities are often criticized because people say the dollars spent on them would just be spent elsewhere in the District. However, unlike essentially any other stadium in the country, the sports facilities in the District attract spending from residents of other jurisdictions — Virginia and Maryland — that (because of tax-collection limitations in the Home Rule Charter) will not generate tax revenue for D.C. unless they buy things, like sports tickets, here in the city. Strong sports teams in D.C. are exciting for us as a community, but, even more than that, they are important to diversify and strengthen our local economy beyond the government sector. We’ve worked tirelessly over the past 20 years to make the District attractive to businesses and residents, and we’re reaping the benefits of a broad, diverse economic base. Go, D.C.! Jack Evans is the District Council member for Ward 2, representing Georgetown and other neighborhoods since 1991.
I testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last week about the state of our regional Metro system, laying out in stark terms the problems facing Metro. The system has $18 billion in deferred maintenance, a $2.5-billion unfunded pension liability and a $150-million operating budget shortfall next year (after balancing this year’s budget on one-time money). I also made clear that the federal government, which — with four board members — has an equal role in governing the system, needs to contribute $300 million per year to the operating budget, just like Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, the entity created by the federal government to operate the Metro system, has gone from a shining example of regional cooperation and a futuristic plan for public transit to the mediocre system we have today. This is the system of the National Capital Region of the United States of America. A system used by many of the region’s 22 million annual visitors from across the country and around the world. A system that transports more than 50 percent of the federal workforce every day. A system that — despite billions of dollars in investment — has been under-maintained for decades, as have our national parks, our highways and essentially every other transit system in the U.S. I have put the region on notice that we need to come together to create a dedicated funding source for Metro that produces approximately $1 billion per year. I have also begun meeting with regional leaders to assess the different options for a regional funding source. In 2006, I sponsored — and the District Council passed — legislation that would have dedicated 0.5 percent of our sales tax to Metro, but Maryland and Virginia did not implement a similar dedicated funding source. If we again fail to act on a dedicated funding source, in 10 years it will be much more expensive and perhaps too late to save Metro. Given Metro’s recent performance and continued loss of ridership, we cannot raise fares and expect anything other than more riders leaving the system. Metro is the economic backbone of the region, and we need to make it our highest priority infrastructure investment. WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld is putting together a plan to reform the agency and begin addressing the deferred maintenance and safety recommendations from the Federal Transit Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board. The agency is also putting together a complete, detailed and prioritized capital-needs inventory to get the system back to the world-class system that the region deserves. While Metro gets its house in order and develops a roadmap for its revival, the governments, business and citizens of the region — D.C., Maryland, Virginia and the federal government — need to come together to fund these plans. Otherwise, we will be left with the mostly safe, somewhat reliable, mediocre system we have today. Jack Evans is the District Council member for Ward 2, representing Georgetown and other neighborhoods since 1991.
It’s officially budget season again in the District. Mayor Bowser released her budget proposal two weeks ago and I’ve had the opportunity to review this initial draft. It is a good budget. I want to commend the mayor, CFO Jeff Dewitt and their hardworking teams that have put this budget together. First, I appreciate that this budget contains only a 2.7-percent spending increase over this year’s budget. In the past, the District’s spending has increased 4, 5, even 12 percent from one year to the next. This is important because it means that, while the District’s economy is expected to grow, an even larger share of the District’s growth will be enjoyed by individuals and small businesses rather than paid in taxes. That’s especially true as we continue to enact parts of the major tax overhaul that was proposed by a blue-ribbon Tax Revision Commission led by former Mayor Anthony Williams and approved by the Council in 2013. This year, the business franchise tax will drop to 9.0 percent and the estate tax threshold will increase to $2 million from $1 million — a critical increase for the many District families who have seen their home values increase dramatically. Beyond the overall size of the budget, the mayor’s proposal includes much that I agree is important. For example, the mayor endorsed my position to fully commit the District’s contribution to WMATA’s budget to prevent any fare increases; fund the Housing Production Trust Fund at $100 million; continue to provide much needed upgrades and modernizations to our schools; and, of particular importance to me, fund the Fillmore Arts program for the five elementary schools that lack necessary space for their own arts education. As good as these moves are, however, there are some areas that continue to be underfunded. Our local infrastructure — sidewalks, streets, alleys — is in disrepair and needs an increased level of attention. Despite this, the capital budget for Fiscal Year 2017 went down by $6,000 in every ward from what was anticipated in last year’s budget. We need to focus more energy in ensuring that our roadways are safe and secure for all users. While the budget is strong, we continue to underperform in delivering results on many projects. The Hyde-Addison Elementary renovations continue to be delayed by DC Public Schools planning. In other parts of the ward, we have seen delays in the modernization of Garrison and Francis-Stevens schools and the proposed park over the Connecticut Avenue overpass. In the coming weeks, the Council will hold hearings to question how agencies plan to fully utilize their budgets for the upcoming year. While this is a good budget, we have to continue to push forward to make our fiscal footing stronger, our government more efficient and our city more affordable and equitable for all residents. Jack Evans is the District Council member for Ward 2, representing Georgetown and other neighborhoods since 1991.
Our Metro system took the unprecedented step of closing the entire rail network last Wednesday for immediate emergency inspections of the roughly 600 “jumper cables” along the electrified third rail. One of these jumper cables caused the fire and smoke incident at the L’Enfant station last January and another jumper cable caused the fire incident at the McPherson Square station this past Monday. A full inspection was conducted after the L’Enfant incident by Metro and the National Transportation Safety Board, resulting in the replacement of 125 problem cables. Despite these efforts last year, Monday’s fire demonstrated that an immediate reinspection was necessary. The decision to reinspect the jumper cables last week was made by new Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld. As the new chairman of the Metro board, I fully support his decision to take immediate, drastic action to ensure that the system is safe for riders. Once I was made aware of the similarity between Monday’s incident and the tragedy that took place last year, it was clear that the public needed to know this information; waiting even a few days for these inspections was not acceptable. I’m glad we took immediate action. Metro staff and outside engineering and maintenance experts, brought in by Wiedefeld to assess Metro’s entire approach to its work, walked the entire rail system and found 26 defects. Three of the jumper cables were so deteriorated that Wiedefeld described them as “show-stoppers,” meaning defects that would have interrupted service if seen during normal operations. It’s very troubling that we found these 26 defects a year after inspecting the cables, and before federal regulations would require their reinspection this summer. I’m pleased that the Federal Transit Administration, the federal agency charged with oversight of Metro, announced that it will begin additional inspections of the system this week. There is a lot of work that needs to be done, and done urgently, to fix Metro, but the more important takeaway is that our GM, myself as board chair and the new leadership of the agency will shut the system down when necessary to ensure the safety of riders. U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said during a Senate hearing last week that Metro lacks a strong safety culture. I agree. The system has been mismanaged and under-maintained for too long. That ends now. Metro is too important to riders, businesses, governments, growth, development and the future success of the entire region to be allowed to fall any further. I left the board in 2000 with Metro as a shining example of regional cooperation and success. Over the past 15 years, that coordination and the system have fallen apart. I want to thank and apologize to all of the riders and businesses that had to deal with last week’s shutdown. It will take time, but we are going to work tirelessly, every day, to improve our Metro system and regain your trust. *Jack Evans is the District Council member for Ward 2, representing Georgetown and other neighborhoods since 1991.*
I remain focused on tackling the increase in crime we’ve seen across our city and in our Metro system over the past year, and I’m pleased to share several recent actions taken by the District Council and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. Last week, WMATA announced several changes that will boost police patrols in stations and on railcars and buses. These measures will result in sharp increases in the number of officers on patrol at selected times of day and better utilize officers working in “limited duty” status, providing additional “eyes and ears” at key locations. Metro Transit Police have already implemented the following changes: • Reassign 17 officers to Patrol Operations. By transfering responsibility for securing revenue to an outside firm, MTPD will immediately make available 11 officers and an additional 6 officers within 60 days. • Implement “power hour” deployments. MTPD will strategically use overtime to overlap the department’s day-shift and evening-shift officers on selected days and at selected locations. By having the two shifts overlap, the number of officers on duty can nearly double during hours when patrol coverage is needed most (i.e., during late-afternoon and evening hours). • Reassign officers on qualifying “limited duty” status. Officers who are not on full duty status but are cleared to work on a limited duty basis will be assigned to stations based on crime trends. These officers, who may be in high-visibility vests or in casual clothes, will be equipped with police radios to summon on-duty MTPD officers when needed. Additionally, I continue to meet regularly with both WMATA leadership and senior D.C. officials to evaluate our public safety efforts. I say this very conservatively, but WMATA has been successful at apprehending individuals who commit crimes in the system. Thanks to increased patrols, coordination with jurisdictional police departments and the thousands — thousands — of cameras deployed across the system, it is becoming increasingly true that if you commit a crime on Metro, you will be caught. However, we need to continue to work on preventing crime in the system, not just on apprehending offenders. I believe the changes announced last week will help to do just that, but we must continue to improve how we utilize our resources and increase the resources available. In addition to these recent changes at WMATA, the Council this week passed the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results Amendment Act of 2016, a bill introduced by Council member Kenyan McDuffie that provides mental health, substance abuse and community-engagement resources to tackle crime and violence in our city. While I continue to believe that the cornerstone of our strategy needs to be raising our dangerously low Metropolitan Police Department staffing levels, this bill creates additional resources to help address some of the root causes of crime in our city. Making our city safer and stronger, through improved public safety, education and economic development, will continue to be my first priority on the Council. I will update you regularly as we work to build upon the success we have had over the past 20 years, and fight to prevent our city from taking a step backward. As always, please share with me your thoughts on how we can do this together. *Jack Evans is the District Council member for Ward 2, representing Georgetown and other neighborhoods since 1991.*
The Committee on Finance and Revenue, the District Council committee that I chair, held its initial performance oversight hearing last week. Because the purview of the committee is so broad, we hold hearings on three different days. Last week, we heard from the Office of Partnerships and Grant Services, DestinationDC, EventsDC, the Commission on the Arts and Humanities and WMATA. These hearings give the Council an opportunity to question agency leaders on their performance with regard to their budgets over the past year — where they excelled and where they fell short. The oversight process also signals the beginning of the budget season. Two weeks ago, the Council held a hearing on the Fiscal Year 2015 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, known as the CAFR. The report — our 19th consecutive “clean” audit opinion — reminds us that the District of Columbia has a lot to be proud of. Not only have we continued to maintain our strong bond ratings, and even secured an upgrade in the past year, but we have also managed to increase our fund balance to $2.17 billion. Additionally, not only were there no reported material weaknesses, there was no yellow book, which is commendable. It is important to note, however, that there is still room for improvement. As I have said many times in the past, maintaining our fiscal health was no small accomplishment in the past several years, when so many governments have been struggling financially. For the coming year, our goals must be to plan for our long-term needs, live within our means and not look to immediate fixes that have only a short-term impact. The findings of the CAFR, which was completed on time, resulted in a clean audit and reflect a balanced budget. In some ways, it is not the end of a process but the beginning of new work for us. We need to remain vigilant and continue to perform oversight on the identified areas of concern. We now undertake the performance oversight process with the findings from the CAFR as a big-picture guide. Over the past few weeks, I sent a number of questions to the agencies under my committee’s purview to collect data on agency structure and recent spending. Once I review what has worked and what has not, I will be in a better position to make recommendations on adjustments to the agency budgets for next year. The Committee on Finance and Revenue will hold its next performance oversight hearing, on the D.C. Lottery, on March 4. Then, on March 8, we will hear from the remaining agencies under the purview of the Committee: the Office of the Chief Financial Officer, the Real Property Tax Appeals Commission and the Office of the Inspector General. In addition to my committee, all of the Council committees are holding similar oversight hearings (a full listing can be found at dccouncil.us). I will keep you apprised of what I learn from these hearings, but I also welcome your thoughts, questions or testimony regarding these agencies. Please let me know if you would like to attend either hearing. Jack Evans is the District Council member for Ward 2, representing Georgetown and other neighborhoods since 1991.
Our Metro transit system continues to suffer from serious issues. After a trying year in 2015, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority now has a new general manager and CEO. Paul Wiedefeld is focused on identifying the full slate of Metro’s technical and organizational problems and finding solutions to improve the system for riders and for the entire region.?? I’m excited to be taking on a larger role at WMATA to aid the GM in his turnaround efforts. At the most recent meeting of the board of directors, I was honored to be unanimously selected by my colleagues as chair for the upcoming year. The board is responsible for setting policy, establishing the operating and capital budgets and representing riders and the jurisdictions in advocating to improve the system. I previously served as Metro board chair in 1994 and 1997, during what most people call the “golden age of Metro.” We were completing the original 101-mile system, ridership was increasing and the federal government and the three jurisdictions (D.C., Maryland and Virginia) had a more sensible funding agreement.?? That’s a far cry from the condition Metro finds itself in today. The Silver Line expansion is underway, but it came online without many of the necessary upgrades to infrastructure and assets for it to seamlessly integrate with the existing operation. Ridership is decreasing and has been for the past five years. Each year is a fight or a roll of the dice to see how much money the federal government and the three jurisdictions will contribute to the needed safety, maintenance, capital and operating costs.?Metro needs much greater oversight to ensure that things are actually getting better for riders — and that the entire organization is focused on making the system safer, cleaner, more reliable and more efficient. One last point I want to make is that I am still very much the Ward 2 member on the D.C. Council. A few folks have sent me messages saying they’ll miss me (and, more to the point, my great Council staff). However, the Metro chairmanship is an unpaid position that is in addition to my Metro oversight role on the Council. I will continue to represent Ward 2 residents on all of the District’s pressing issues: schools, affordability, roads, economic development. Most important, my excellent staff will continue without interruption to assist me with the constituent services work that is such a major part of my Council position. I’m excited to help make Metro once again a point of pride: a convenient and affordable transit system and a shining example of regional cooperation. As we did from the Control Board era to the present, we need to bring smart change management to improving Metro’s safety, service reliability and financial management. This year is going to require a lot of hard work, and the agency will undergo quite a bit of change, but with our general manager Paul Wiedefeld, the board and staff, the riders and the region committed to improving Metro, we will get it done. Jack Evans is the District Council member for Ward 2, representing Georgetown and other neighborhoods since 1991.
The role of the D.C. Council involves both crafting legislation and providing oversight to the various agencies in the District government. During January, February and March, that oversight comes front and center, as each of the Council’s committees undertakes a comprehensive and rigorous review of agency performance. This performance oversight process includes the compilation of questions regarding issues that have arisen over the past year. The committees send these questions to the agencies in advance of public hearings, at which Council members listen to responses from agency leaders and further engage them about their respective agency’s accomplishments, shortcomings and plans for improvement. As chair of the Committee on Finance and Revenue, I take the lead in overseeing and questioning nine agencies, including the Office of the Chief Financial Officer and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. My committee will hold two performance oversight hearings. On Feb. 18, leaders from WMATA, EventsDC, DestinationDC, the Office of Partnerships and Grant Services and the Commission on the Arts and Humanities will appear before the committee. Then, on March 2, the CFO, the DC Lottery, the Real Property Tax Appeals Commission and the Inspector General will testify. These oversight hearings are an opportunity for Council members to dig deep into how your tax dollars can be better spent. They are also an ideal time for members of the public to speak about their positive and negative experiences with agencies throughout the year. Every year I hear at least one comment or suggestion from a public witness during these hearings that influences legislation or further oversight. The full list of hearings and agencies, and information on how to sign up to testify, is available at dccouncil.us. Members of the public can arrange to testify about the Metropolitan Police Department (Feb. 23), DC Public Schools (Feb. 24), the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (Feb. 29), the Department of Transportation (Feb. 29) and other agencies by contacting the relevant committees and asking to be put on the witness list. After the performance oversight hearings conclude, the mayor will submit her budget request to the Council around April 1. The Council will then undertake a second round of hearings to delve into agencies’ budget requests and plans for the upcoming fiscal year. These initial oversight hearings are critical to crafting and right-sizing the District’s budget. I encourage all residents to watch the hearings, review the answers from agencies and, if so inclined, sign up to testify. Jack Evans is the District Council member for Ward 2, representing Georgetown and other neighborhoods since 1991.