A First Look at the Mayor’s Budget

April 23, 2015

The Council is now in full review of Mayor Bowser’s budget request for fiscal year 2016. The mayor transmitted her budget proposal to the Council last week, and while I am still reviewing the budget as I write this, I want to share some initial thoughts and important points.

First, I appreciate that this budget contains only a 3.2-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 more than 4 percent this year and next year, an even larger share of the District’s growth will be enjoyed by individuals and small businesses, instead of being paid in taxes.

I applaud Mayor Bowser for instructing all of her cabinet members and department heads to undertake a thorough review of their budgets to find areas and programs where funds are being underutilized or unwisely spent. This kind of fiscal discipline will reap far greater benefits than simply increasing government spending.

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 the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s budget, to prevent any fare increases or service reductions. Also on the transportation front, the budget increases funding to repairs streets, alleys and sidewalks, a critical area of need in Georgetown and across the city. I also support the mayor’s full funding of the Housing Production Trust Fund, to build affordable housing at the rate of $100 million per year.

What is my greatest concern in my initial review of the budget? Proposals to increase our sales and parking taxes. The District sales tax rate has been 5.75 percent for over 20 years. It only increased to 6 percent from 2010 to 2013 because the District was in a serious financial crunch due to the economic recession. The sales tax is the most regressive tax, and increasing it will hurt residents on the lower end of the income spectrum. We should save that potential revenue for when we really need it, as in 2010.

As for the parking tax increase, this proposed move follows an increase from 12 to 18 percent three years ago, along with an increase in the minimum wage, which applies to many of the city’s parking attendants. This latest increase is a triple whammy. When it’s more expensive and difficult to find a parking spot, people are less likely to go out, spend money in the District and generate tax revenue. Plus, most of these costs get passed on to residents, making it more expensive for people to park near their offices, restaurants and stores. More than a third of those parking in garages are District residents. So, in effect, we are taxing our own people again and again.

I will continue to review the budget proposal in the coming weeks, and the Council will hold hearings on each government agency, at which agency leaders will go over their plans for the upcoming year. Please share your views with me and with my colleagues about the budget and plans for the District.

Jack Evans is the Ward 2 Councilmember, representing Georgetown since 1991.

Full Steam Ahead for D.C. Finances

March 11, 2015

Last week, I joined the Mayor, the Chairman of the Council, and the Chief Financial Officer to meet with the three major Wall Street rating agencies (Fitch, Moody’s, and Standard & Poor’s). These meetings are important because the rating agencies evaluate the fiscal health of cities, counties and states throughout the country. These ratings, in turn, impact the interest rate imposed on our borrowing to make capital improvements, such as work at our schools, libraries, and even roads. Because of the increase in our bond ratings, District residents have saved millions in interest costs over the years.

This year, the District delegation was pleased to share the results from our comprehensive financial annual report (CAFR) audit of FY 2014, which revealed a surplus of roughly $203 million and reserve balance of $1.87 billion. This recent audit was the 18th consecutive in which the District received a “clean” or unqualified opinion of our finances.

I made a presentation to each of the agencies regarding our eligibility for a ratings upgrade. I reminded the agencies that we have put a cap on our borrowing, replenished the fund balance in our “savings accounts,” and produced structurally sound budgets for a number of years. 

In short, our finances today are as strong as they have ever been and a far cry from the desperate straits we faced in the mid-1990s. Additionally, the CFO projected just last week that revenues for the current fiscal year will be $37 million higher than initially anticipated as our economy continues to grow and more people continue to move into the District.

Our first priority as elected officials is to be prudent stewards of taxpayers’ dollars. The presentation we made to the rating agencies expressed that sentiment and the CAFR indicates that we have continued to do that. While our financial house is strong, we still need to make smart investments in areas such as education, affordable housing, transportation and infrastructure. In the coming months, the Council will receive and review a budget from the Mayor. I will continue to push for these types of investments as we work to make the District even stronger in the years and decades to come

Jack Evans is the Ward 2 Councilmember, representing Georgetown since 1991.

Carry On Barry’s Belief for a Better D.C.

December 4, 2014

The District of Columbia lost one of its founding fathers last week when Marion Barry, Civil Rights leader, mayor, council member, passed away at the age of 78.

During my time in D.C. and in local government, we have experienced an incredible amount of change as a city, but there has always been one constant: Marion Barry. From my earliest days in the District, I’ve always known a city with Marion Barry. I moved to Washington in September 1978 and started working as an attorney at the Securities and Exchange Commission on a Monday. The next day, Marion won the Democratic primary for the Mayor of Washington, D.C. He truly was my “Mayor for Life.”

For the last 10 years, I’ve had the office right next door to Marion. Serving on the Council together was like having an historical figure right within your reach. I had the opportunity to travel with him around the country and the world, and no matter where we were everyone always came up to him and wanted to take their picture with him. From Las Vegas to South Africa, people loved Marion Barry.

In the 35 years I knew him, he never backed down from his belief that Washington, D.C. should do more, should be more, for every person who lives here. Marion looked out for people who were down and out and he should always be remembered for that.

Most people know that Marion Barry served as Mayor of Washington, D.C. longer than anyone else in history, and everyone knows of his infamous struggles, but many people are unaware of how integral a role Marion played in the Civil Rights movement.

Marion participated in the Nashville sit-ins in 1960 as a student at Fisk University. Later that same year, he was elected the first chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, one of the most important groups of the Civil Rights movement. It was through SNCC that he first came to Washington, D.C.

During those early years in Washington, he helped to organize boycotts and peaceful demonstrations. He fought for District home rule. He went to the federal government and won funding to establish Pride, Inc., a jobs training program for unemployed black men.
Helping people find jobs became a passion for Marion, and he made it his life’s work. As mayor, he created the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program, which has provided summer jobs to nearly every young Washingtonian over the last 25 years, including my triplets, and through his final days on the Council, he kept fighting for “the last, the lost, the least,” as he would say.

While Marion is gone, his belief in a better District for all residents lives on. It’s now for the rest of us to continue to make it so.
My thoughts and prayers continue to be with his wife, Cora, his son, Christopher, and the hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians who loved Marion Barry.

Jack Evans Report: CFO’s Strategic Plan

October 27, 2014

On Oct. 20, I chaired a Finance and Revenue Committee hearing to review the Strategic Plan for the Office of the CFO. The plan, released this summer, is new CFO Jeffrey DeWitt’s vision for how to continue the strong fiscal discipline of the OCFO, while finding ways for the office to better serve the taxpayers of the District of Columbia.

The plan includes seven key strategic objectives: 1) Improve Customer Service; 2) Create a Culture of Continuous Improvement; 3) Improve Transparency and Quality of Information; 4) Effectively Manage Risk and Prevent Fraud; 5) Implement Quality Financial Systems; 6) Develop, Attract and Retain High Quality Employees; 7) Manage a Fair and Equitable System to Fully Collect District Revenues.

I have written before about the need to focus on customer service within our city agencies. At his confirmation hearing last year, I asked DeWitt who his ultimate “customer” is as CFO. I was pleased that he answered that it is, first and foremost, the citizens of the District of Columbia. That this plan puts improving customer service as the first strategic objective is an important distinction.

The plan also details 24 strategic initiatives, tactical plans to achieve the overarching objectives. They outline technological improvements, community outreach programs to create a culture of regular feedback, and enhanced ethics training, transparency and fraud protection. These efforts, combined with the Council’s actions this summer to lower various taxes rates, will continue to ensure that District residents are getting a high return on their tax dollars.

I often talk about the envious state of the District’s finances and the work we’ve done to get to this position since the Control Board. The District has now passed 18 consecutive balanced budgets, our municipal employee pension plan is fully funded, and, as I reported in the last issue, our bond rating continues to improve. These outcomes are only possible because we’ve been responsible in our financial management and proactive in keeping the District economically competitive.

This is an initial plan, but one that lays out big goals for the OCFO and the District over the next several years and into the future. I encourage all District residents to review the Strategic Plan on the CFO’s website, www.cfo.dc.gov. The Finance and Revenue Committee will hold future oversight hearings to assess the progress of this plan and I look forward to providing you future updates on its effectiveness.

Jack Evans Report

July 16, 2014

In case any of us lost track of the calendar, the recent upper 90s temperatures removed any doubt that it’s summer in the District. Especially at this time of year, please remember to check in with your elderly or ill neighbors who might need a little assistance. Weather like this can affect even the healthiest of us.

In true summer fashion, I recently celebrated Independence Day at the 48th annual Palisades 4th of July Parade. For those of you unfamiliar with the parade, this is a great reminder of the beauty of our neighborhoods – a real small town parade. It usually begins at 11 a.m. at the corner of Whitehaven Parkway and MacArthur Boulevard, NW. It continues along MacArthur Boulevard for about a mile before turning left to end at the Palisades Recreation Center. As an elected official, I always enjoy the opportunity to participate in local parades with family and friends. After the parade, we joined hundreds of others at the Rec Center for hot dogs, drinks and ice cream – kudos to the organizers for a great event.

After we cooled off and caught our breath, we headed to another park, this time Nationals Park. It was a gorgeous day for a baseball game. In light of the 11:05 am start time, I missed about half of the game, but still made it in time to see Anthony Rendon hit a home run to extend the Nats lead. I’m sorry to see that Rendon didn’t make the MLB All-Star game. He’s having an outstanding season and will certainly continue to be an all-star contributor to the team for years to game. Thankfully, the game that day didn’t disappoint as the Nats beat Philadelphia eight to four behind a strong start from Stephen Strasburg. The Nationals always seem to shine on our National Holiday.

The next step in this great day was a trip home for a break and then off to watch the fireworks. What a terrific display! The new ‘shaped’ fireworks – stars, smiling faces, hearts – were a fun new addition.

Neighborhood parades, Major League Baseball, world class fireworks – we really do live in a wonderful city.

I would also like to take a brief moment to remember my staffer Desi Deschaine on the five-year anniversary of his tragic death. We have truly missed Desi as part of our office and part of our lives, and I know those of you who were touched by him do as well. Here’s remembering you, Desi — you remain in our hearts and minds.

Jack Evans Report

July 2, 2014

On Thursday, June 26, I co-chaired a hearing on a proposed new soccer stadium in the District of Columbia. The meeting brought together residents of the District and representatives of D.C. United, the D.C. Government and other stakeholder organizations. Part of the hearing was to gather stakeholder sentiment about the proposed stadium development, but the hearing was also an opportunity to put the proposal on the public record. I’d like to take this opportunity to share some of those details with you. Thursday’s hearing was the first such hearing on this proposal, so there will be other opportunities to express your views.

The new LEED-certified soccer stadium is proposed to be built in Buzzard Point, an under-resourced neighborhood of the city between the Southwest Waterfront and Nationals Stadium. The rationale for locating the stadium in this neighborhood is to create an anchor to help build up this area for residents and build off of the success we’ve seen in other similar projects, such as the Verizon Center and Nationals Stadium, which have helped spur economic development. The new stadium will generate $50 million per year in new economic activity and $14 million per year in payroll in the District.

The District of Columbia will acquire and own the land under the stadium and lease the land to DC United, who will design and construct the actual stadium (as well as bear the risk of any increased costs of building). In order to acquire the land in Buzzard Point, the District will purchase land for $85 million. Part of this amount will come from a swap of two city-owned properties for two privately held properties.

These swaps are for two properties where the stadium will be built, in exchange for city-owned properties at 14th & U Streets (the Reeves Center) and a smaller property in the Mt. Vernon Triangle neighborhood. The swaps make the process more complicated than a simpler agreement for the city and DC United to split the cost of a stadium, but they give the District an opportunity to maximize our benefit in this project while limiting our actual out of pocket costs.

The Reeves Center was built in 1986 and greatly helped the revitalization of the 14th & U Street corridor. However, three separate appraisals have told us that the Reeves building does not maximize the possible community benefits and tax revenue for such a prime location. A private development would provide a more comprehensive and valuable mixed-use building, including office space, retail, affordable housing and other uses. This will build on the success of the U street area, while allowing us to provide the support of government jobs in Anacostia, where a new Reeves Center would be located. This project allows us to provide smart planning for the future of our city and many of our neighborhoods.

This development has a few key parts. It will help us spur economic development in two currently under-served parts of our city, Buzzard Point and Anacostia. It will create a permanent, appropriately-sized home for our local soccer team, DC United, and allow us to attract more events and tourism to the District. It will also create new retail and affordable housing at 14th & U Streets. As I see it, that’s three neighborhoods greatly benefitting from this proposal, in addition to the city as a whole. We subsidize lots of things in this city; it is what makes the fabric of our city unique. That rich fabric is why it’s important that we have a soccer team and stadium in this city. The proposal as currently structured isn’t perfect, and I will continue to work with my colleagues on the Council, stakeholders in the project and the residents of Ward 2 to ensure a fair and beneficial deal for the residents of the District of Columbia.

I would also like to take a moment to offer my condolences to the family and friends of Tim Hanan, a Foxhall Village and former long-time Georgetown resident, who passed away a few weeks ago. Tim was a lawyer, advisor to Senator Edward Kennedy and Mayor Abe Beane of New York, and a friend to all.

Jack Evans ReportJune 18, 2014

June 18, 2014

The D.C. Council is involved with many aspects of the city. Every year, we review and pass a budget for the District that funds everything from DCPS to Medicaid. We write laws for the city, we oversee government agencies like the Office of Tax and Revenue and the Commission on Arts and Humanities and, most important, we work to make our neighborhoods and communities better for the residents of the District.

This constituent services part of being a councilmember is why I enjoy this job so much, and I want to take this opportunity to explain a few ways my office can be helpful to you.

My office can help you follow up on service requests you?ve already made to the District. Many concerns such as trees that need to be trimmed or sidewalks or street lights in need of repair can be handled quickly by calling 311 or submitting a request online at 311.dc.gov. If your concern is not addressed, we can reach out to the relevant government agency.

Some requests are more complicated, and my staff and I stand ready to work with D.C. agencies on your behalf. Recently, the new trash bin delivery was a major problem for many Georgetown residents. My office worked with DPW to get the unwanted bins picked up more quickly than originally scheduled.

Next, we can organize meetings where residents and government agencies can discuss concerns and possible solutions. A few weeks ago, I held a meeting about public safety in parts of the downtown area with residents in nearby condo buildings and representatives from MPD, the Office of the Mayor, the D.C. Public Library and local nonprofit organizations. My office can address many concerns, but when the solution isn?t clear, these meetings can be a big help.

Third, we can help you figure out who is in a position to respond to your concerns. Navigating the various D.C. government agencies is getting easier, but my office can provide assistance when you?re having difficulty reaching the right person.

Fourth, we work with ANCs and community groups to better understand the thoughts and feelings of the neighborhood. I regularly attend the ANC2E monthly meetings, Citizens Association of Georgetown events and other community functions all across the Ward. My staff is at these meetings each and every month. I find these meeting incredibly valuable, letting me hear directly from you about what is happening in our community. Always feel free to work with these community groups or to come talk to me or someone from my staff about issues in your area.

*It?s a privilege to serve as your councilmember. If you ever need assistance with the issues I?ve mentioned here, or there is something else you feel that I can help with, please contact me at 202-724-8058 or jackevans@dccouncil.us.*

Jack Evans Report

June 4, 2014

Last Wednesday, the Council voted to approve an $11 billion budget, once again the largest budget in the history of our city. It should be noted that every other jurisdiction in the country has made tough choices to deal with the lingering fallout of the global recession. But in D.C., our tax collections continue to go up every month.

Even after you take into account all the built-in increases from year to year – raises, inflation and the like – the mayor and Council had an additional $159 million to spend in the 2015 budget.

I agree with many of the allocations of this money. For example, the budget includes increased funding for the arts, for Destination DC and for the DC Economic Partnership. These are tremendous economic drivers for the District and actually bring several dollars of revenue to our treasury for each dollar we spend on them.

I also support increased funding for public education and affordable housing, among other priorities.
On the capital side, I was successful in including $10 million in funding to expand green space in Ward 2 with the Dupont Crown Park, located over the Connecticut Avenue underpass north of Dupont Circle.

Fortunately, the budget also includes about $165 million in annual tax relief. Our budget legislation will create a new middle-class income tax bracket of $40,000 to $60,000 and expand the Earned Income Tax Credit for low- and moderate-income workers. By raising the estate tax threshold to twice the current limit, and eventually recoupling it with the federal level at $5.2 million, adjusted for inflation, it also helps seniors and homeowners in the District whose property values have increased.

But with all this extra money in our budget, I am disappointed that the Council would propose to maintain our top income tax bracket at 8.95%, which is among the highest income tax rates in the nation. Not only is it bad policy, it also breaks the promise we made when we originally raised the rate from 8.5% that we would sunset it after four years.

In addition, the Council has proposed two new taxes that I find objectionable: an expansion of the sales tax to gyms and yoga studios and a tax on premium tobacco products.

Taxes are not simply to raise revenue, but also express our policy preferences. With that in mind, why would we want to create disincentives for our residents who want to make healthy choices by joining health clubs, especially when it is clear that we do not need the extra money?

With regard to tobacco, the last time we raised this tax we saw collections actually go down, as residents chose to make larger tobacco purchases in Virginia. The tax at issue today, though, is a tax on premium tobacco products like cigars, which will hurt local small businesses such as Georgetown Tobacco.

Overall, I support the budget even though I do not agree with some of the items in it. Our final budget vote is not until June 11. I am hopeful we will make a few more changes before we put the law on the books.

Jack Evans Report

February 13, 2014

As I wrote in my last article, around this time every year we conduct a performance analysis of the agencies within our committee purview and make recommendations regarding future programs and funding levels. Another crucial aspect of the oversight and budget process is the completion of our audit, the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (“CAFR”), which was recently released.

The District of Columbia has a lot to be proud of. This is the 17th consecutive year in which the District has received a clean audit opinion on its annual financial statements. Once again, there are no reported material weaknesses, which is also commendable. Not only have we continued to maintain our strong bond ratings, and even achieved an upgrade by S&P from A+ to AA-, but we have also managed to increase our fund balance by $242 million to $1.75 billion.

In short, our finances today are a far cry from the desperate straits we faced in the mid-1990s. This is an encouraging outcome. I believe that we should use this opportunity to save our surplus until we attain the full two months of operating dollars in our reserves that the bond rating agencies prefer and our auditors recommend.

Our auditors also prepare a report, known as the Yellow Book, that discusses their analysis of the District’s internal controls over financial reporting and gives the results of their tests of the District’s compliance with certain laws, regulations, contracts, grant agreements and so on. With regard to these findings, we have good news and bad news. First, I want to recognize the Office of Tax and Revenue for resolving the issues that got them into the Yellow Book last year. This year, they are out of the Yellow Book. It’s a real achievement.

In other areas of the government, however, we have ongoing weaknesses that need to be addressed. Our information technology systems continue to have problems. Our procurement offices still fail to maintain and produce basic documentation needed for our auditors to verify that fraud is not present. Reconciliations aren’t happening in a timely manner. Something as large as a $14 million deposit can be made twice, and nobody gets to the bottom of it for months.

Maintaining our fiscal health has been no small accomplishment during the past few fiscal years, when so many governments have struggled financially. Our goal for the coming year 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.

We should think of the findings of the CAFR – which was completed on time, resulted in a clean audit and reflects a balanced budget – not as the end of a process, but as starting points for a renewed effort: to delve deeper into the reports, to continue to perform oversight on the identified areas of concern and to move forward with our budget for fiscal year 2015.

Jack Evans Report

January 29, 2014

In my last report, I wrote about the new year and several of my ongoing priorities: education, public safety and affordable housing. One thing my goals for these areas have in common is that they will be substantially affected by the budget decisions the mayor and the council make over the next few months. As chairman of the finance and revenue committee, I often find this time of year to be my busiest.

Before the budget is released, however, we undertake the performance oversight process. Over the past couple of weeks, I have been sending questions to the agencies under my purview to collect data on agency structure and recent spending. After 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 largest agency falling within the oversight framework of my committee is the office of the chief financial officer. This agency includes a number of component departments, such as tax and revenue, finance and treasury and revenue analysis. Our new CFO, Jeff DeWitt, recently began serving in a full-time capacity. I am looking forward to hearing his vision for the agency and sharing my ideas and experience with him as the CFO’s budget is formulated.

Last year I was also pleased to welcome the Commission on the Arts & Humanities and Destination DC to the group of organizations for which my committee has oversight responsibility. These agencies, along with Events DC (formerly known as the Washington Convention and Sports Authority), contribute substantially to the economic development and cultural life of our city.
After the conclusion of the oversight process (and, coincidentally, right after the mayoral primary), the mayor will release a draft budget proposal for the 2015 fiscal year. At that time we will have another round of hearings with the agencies that fall under the committee’s oversight responsibility. After we make changes to the budget that we consider appropriate, a final version will be passed in June.

Please feel free to get in touch with my office – and with the offices of my colleagues – to share your experiences with the executive agencies over the past year, both positive and negative. This is the right time to recognize good work and to bring accountability to areas that need improvement.