Jack Evans Report: Goals For the New Year

January 16, 2014

Happy New Year, everyone! This week I want to discuss a few of my New Year’s resolutions. The year 2014 is now well underway, and we will soon be swept up in our oversight and budget season. Before that happens, I want to lay out some of my top priorities for the year. In addition to keeping our finances in good order, as chair of the committee on finance and revenue my other top areas of focus include the following:

Our public education system continues to be one of my top areas of focus. I was pleased to work with the community in helping to advocate that the chancellor keep Garrison and Francis-Stevens open. Fortunately, the chancellor took note of what we already know well in Ward 2: demographic trends in our neighborhoods require our city to provide residents with the educational and other resources our new children will need. I hope families will continue to decide to stay in the District, unlike in past years, when so many young families would move to the suburbs once they started having children.

Next, public safety is a continuing priority of mine. As the District’s population – not to mention the daytime commuter population – continues to grow, we need an expanded police force to continue to keep us safe. While I applaud the chief for her great work in making the city safer, we have to give her the resources she needs to continue this trend. When I first moved to D.C., we had 5,200 officers on the police force. When I joined the Council, we had 4,800. Would you believe that just last year we had only 3,890 sworn officers? I introduced a bill last year that would mandate that the mayor fund 4,000 officers as a minimum staffing level. That is not a magic number, but in my judgment, after 20 years of service, it is a first step in the right direction. We also need to fund overdue pay raises to the officers currently on the force, and I introduced a bill recently to force that issue. When you don’t give pay raises for several years, retention starts to become a problem.

Third, I want to continue to focus on providing access to quality health care for all our residents.  Hopefully, it is well known by now that we have the second-highest state insurance coverage rate in the country, with only Massachusetts consistently outscoring us. Isn’t it nice to finally be at the top of one of those state ranking lists? I am excited about the implementation of the District’s new health care exchange, one of the few in the nation that seems to be working, which should be making it easier for individuals to avail themselves of private health insurance options. I want to make sure, though, that this is not done in a way that increases insurance costs for our small businesses.

Fourth, I want to continue to fund affordable housing. I was one of the original creators of the Housing Production Trust Fund, and I still support it because it is one of the relatively few government programs that consistently exceed our performance expectations. I also believe it is critical to subsidize private developments so that they include affordable housing components.

All of these priorities lead to my fifth goal: more jobs for District residents. When you provide a world-class education system, a safe environment and affordable housing, as well as health care, to all our residents, jobs will follow. While many parts of our city are doing well, other parts of our city still have very high levels of unemployment. They deserve our best efforts in facilitating job creation in the District. Helping to incentive the creation of construction jobs through city projects prepares our residents for long-term career paths via apprenticeship programs. Once the developments are completed and businesses occupy the new spaces, permanent hospitality jobs result. We receive many dollars in expanded tax revenue for each dollar we initially invest in subsidies.

Thank you for all your support and good ideas. Please keep them coming and don’t hesitate to reach out to my office if we can provide assistance. I hope you had a wonderful holiday season and are making progress on your own New Year’s resolutions. The holidays always seem to go by a little too quickly, but I am very excited about the year ahead.

Jack Evans Report: Pepco Underground

January 6, 2014

On Dec. 11, in my capacity as chair of the Committee on Finance and Revenue, I held a committee vote on a bill to place underground a substantial volume of the District’s power lines. In 2012, as a response to years of major storms and the recent derecho, a Power Line Undergrounding Task Force was established. The purpose of the task force was to pool the resources available in the District to produce an analysis of the technical feasibility and reliability implications of undergrounding the District’s power lines. The bill I moved on the 11th is based on the task force recommendations.
This legislation would approve a program of up to $1 billion in undergrounding work, to be funded by a combination of District revenue bonds, Pepco investments and funding provided by the District as part of the DDOT capital improvement program.
Undergrounding these strategic portions of our power system will result in enhanced reliability. In addition, I am excited about the opportunities this project will create for the employment of District residents. Pepco will work with the Department of Small and Local Business Development on achieving Certified Business Enterprise (CBE) and Small Business Enterprise (SBE) participation as a meaningful part of this project. A preliminary analysis suggested that approximately $625 million of the project would be eligible for CBE participation.

The default CBE projections start out with goals of 35% CBE and 20% SBE participation. These grow over the life of the project to 41% and 25%, respectively, by the end of the seven-year project. For the overall project, CBE participation was initially projected at 38%, an average of $33.93 million per year, and SBE participation at 23%, an average of $20.54 million per year. Given the expected time frame of the project, our local businesses will have the opportunity to further develop their capacity to perform an increasing volume of the work.

These numbers sound pretty good, but I believe the legislation should contain stronger provisions relating to local hiring. The bill I moved would set a goal of at least 51% of related contracts and jobs to be awarded to District businesses and residents, with reporting requirements to provide accountability.

I am proud of my record of leveraging large city projects into job opportunities for our residents. Projects such as the Convention Center Hotel will result in at least 600 permanent jobs for District residents, and the partnership with our hospitality high school virtually ensures a job for every resident who graduates. In a similar way, awarding undergrounding contracts to District businesses and jobs to District residents not only gives them employment opportunities today, but provides longer-term career options going forward.

Jack Evans Report: Be Thankful Every Day

December 6, 2013

I always enjoy the holiday season. Last week, I attended a number of Thanksgiving gatherings both in the Wilson Building and around the city. I think this is a good time to focus on gratitude for what we have and to engage in service to those in need.
For example, one event I really enjoy is the Feast of Sharing at the Convention Center. This event is a great way to help someone in need during the holidays. I joined fellow community members and the Salvation Army in preparing and serving a festive Thanksgiving meal to over 4,000 D.C. residents. There are typically two separate prep shifts that volunteers can sign up for, morning and afternoon, so you may want to consider adding this event to your calendar in future years. Volunteers help our local chefs prepare the meal and assist in setting up the event venue.

My office participated in the Council’s nonperishable food drive and we were excited to collect the most canned goods of any office in the building. (Well, technically speaking, Phil Mendelson’s office is claiming victory. But since his staff includes the Committee of the Whole and has about 30 people versus my eight, I think we can claim our share.) On a more serious note, it is always a satisfying feeling to give to families in need. This is another thing I always look forward to doing every year.
Let me end on this note: While Thanksgiving is but one day of the year, I have to say I am truly thankful every day. Thankful for my family and friends. Thankful for my colleagues and staff. Thankful to have the opportunity to make a difference every day in what I do.

So, don’t let the holiday season go by without a little reflection—and hopefully a nice meal with family and friends, too!

Jack Evans Report: Gov’t and Biz

November 20, 2013

Every now and then, I like to share some
of the nuts and bolts of what our government
does behind the scenes. We can all
think of a situation where we wished our government
would function more efficiently on our
behalf, and I make it my job to ensure that areas
that need improvement are addressed. In many
instances, however, our government is actually
making positive changes and doing a great job
in ways our residents might never realize.

One of those instances relates to our bond
issuances, and not just our rating upgrades
that I talk so much about. One of the ways the
District government helps our residents is by
offering an industrial revenue bond program.
This program works by allowing businesses and
non-profit organizations access to tax-exempt
financing that essentially leverages the strong
financial position and reputation of the District
government to allow organizations to borrow
money at lower interest rates for major projects.

This money helps these organizations with
renovations and new construction, real estate
purchases, equipment, and other capital needs.
Since I have been on the Council, we have
assisted worthy businesses and non-profits in
issuing over $8.6 billion in revenue bonds, to
the benefit of every ward in the city. I am happy
to report the tremendous diversity in these
projects, from universities such as Georgetown,
Howard and Gallaudet; to public and charter
schools such as Washington Yu Ying and Kipp
Academy; to organizations, such as National
Public Radio and the Spy Museum.

On Nov. 13, I chaired a hearing of the
Committee on Finance & Revenue to add two
more potential issuances to this long list of great
projects. PR 20-531, the “Paul Public Charter
School, Inc. Revenue Bonds Project Approval
Resolution of 2013,” would permit up to $20
million of District of Columbia revenue bonds
to help renovate this school at 5800 8th Street,
N.W., in Ward 4. PR 20-532, the “National
Children’s Center Bonds Project Approval
Resolution of 2013,” would authorize up to $8
million of revenue bonds to assist the National
Children’s Center in renovating their facility
located at 3400 Martin Luther King, Jr., Ave.,
S.E., in Ward 8. The Center is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit
organization that provides comprehensive
and innovative services for infants, children and
adults with developmental disabilities in the
District of Columbia.

William Liggins and his team at the D.C.
Revenue Bond Program in the office of the
Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic
Development are to be commended for their
good work in administering this program, and
I encourage any eligible organizations in the
city to reach out if they might benefit from this

Next CFO’s Goals

November 7, 2013

On Oct. 30, I chaired a meeting of the Committee on Finance and Revenue to vote on the nomination of Jeffrey S. DeWitt as the next Chief Financial Officer of the District of Columbia. I have been very impressed with Mr. DeWitt and look forward to working with him on a number of items going forward.

I believe a nominee to this position must possess a deep understanding of municipal finance. Our next CFO must also have good relations with Wall Street. A successful nominee must have or demonstrate the potential to develop a good relationship with leadership on Capitol Hill and the District’s elected leaders.

Once confirmed, a top priority for our next CFO must be to focus serious attention on a commitment to public service and customer service. I asked Mr. DeWitt in written questions to tell me who he views the ultimate “customer” of the office of the CFO to be, and he correctly answered that the ultimate customer should be first and foremost the citizens of the District of Columbia. Whether we are talking about real property tax liens, personal income taxes or various fees the CFO deducts via the cross-tax offset, the common denominator we need is a human touch at the helm of the agency, making sure that our most vulnerable residents are not unduly disadvantaged in the necessary process of raising revenue for our city.

Another critical area of focus for the next CFO is contracting and procurement. Whether we are talking about the lottery contract or technology upgrades, there is a pattern of questions around our CFO’s procurement system that must stop under our new nominee.

Mr. DeWitt has worked for the Phoenix, Ariz. Finance Department since 1994, serving in several positions before becoming the CFO for Phoenix, a position he has held since 2009. Mr. DeWitt was identified by a search committee, which was co-chaired by former Mayor Anthony Williams and former U.S. Office of Management and Budget Director Dr. Alice Rivlin. The search committee recommended several candidates to serve as the next CFO, from which Mayor Gray made his final decision. Mr. DeWitt comes very highly recommended, with letters of support from many stakeholders in the Phoenix area. In addition, in his responses to my written questions and at my oversight hearing, he demonstrated a good understanding of the challenges and responsibilities that are uniquely associated with the District’s CFO position.

Mr. DeWitt would be replacing Dr. Natwar M. Gandhi, who was appointed to a five-year term in 2012. Upon confirmation, Mr. DeWitt will be appointed to complete Dr. Gandhi’s term to end June 30, 2017.

D.C. and the Shutdown

October 10, 2013

Despite numerous warnings and ample time to fix the situation, the federal government has shut down indefinitely. I hope that by the time the Georgetowner goes to print, this situation will have been rectified, but as of the morning of Oct. 4 there is no end in sight. In addition to all the damage that will be done to our economy and to our financial markets due to uncertainty and reductions in consumer spending, the shutdown underscores the continuing inequity in the treatment of the District of Columbia versus other states in the country. Unless the District government is specifically carved out by federal legislation, it has to prepare a shutdown plan when the federal government shuts down, designating employees as “essential” and “non-essential,” as if we were just another federal agency. To counter this, the Council, with the support of the Mayor, has taken the bold move of declaring all District government employees to be essential, effectively rejecting the premise that the District of Columbia is just another federal instrumentality.

As a legislature, we have done what we can to bolster our government’s position in navigating the current and any potential future shut down. Last year, we passed the Local Budget Autonomy Amendment Act of 2012. This legislation will provide for Congress to review our budget bills in the same way that it reviews ordinary legislation – specifically, after two votes by the Council, our budget would go to Congress for a 30-day review. Unfortunately, the Budget Autonomy Act is not effective until January 1, 2014, so it does not help us with the current shut down.
As a result, on October 1, 2013, the Council took up the “Federal Shutdown Response Emergency Act of 2013.” The emergency legislation provides for continued operations pending the enactment of the Budget Autonomy Act. The bill declares all personnel and activities of the District government to be essential. Just as important, the bill authorizes compensation to be paid during a lapse in appropriations out of the contingency cash reserve fund. The provisions of this emergency expire as of January 1, 2014, as the District will no longer need such a bill when the budget autonomy legislation is enacted, authorizing our expenditure of local dollars.

What does this mean for residents? Depending on the way you count the money, we can operate until about the end of October before we need a new federal appropriation. This should mean that the local government is open for business as usual, at least for now. Certain agencies, however, such as the D.C. court system, are operating separately from District authority and shut down plans. I have heard from constituents, for example, who have been unable to file for marriage licenses or get their wedding officiants certified. This is a ridiculous result from a federal shutdown that has nothing to do with our local government. I am still hopeful that the shut down will be resolved in a matter of days, but please don’t hesitate to reach out to me with specific questions about government operations or for help navigating any difficulties you have in dealing with the government in coming days.

Seniors’ Homes

September 25, 2013

Along with many people in our city, I was disturbed to read the series of stories in the Washington Post about seniors having their homes taken for small tax debts. I first learned of this type of problem about a year ago during an oversight hearing on another topic. I then worked with the AARP and others to introduce a comprehensive bill on the subject last October– the Residential Real Property Equity and Transparency Act of 2012. The bill proposes a number of substantive changes to the real property tax collection process, including additional transparency, expanded pre-sale and redemption notice requirements, and equitable limitations on tax sale purchaser expenses that homeowners must pay in order to redeem their homes.

Due to the ending of Council Period 19 in December, I re-introduced the real property bill in January. I also requested that the District’s chief financial officer constitute a residential real property task force, which has met twice this year and is scheduled to meet again this fall. Many of the recommendations of the task force have already been implemented, such as a recommendation for the District’s tax office to affirmatively notify senior citizens if they may be eligible for additional real property tax credits they are not currently receiving. Further, the CFO has ordered the cancellation of any tax sales from July of any home receiving the homestead tax deduction.

I also introduced emergency and permanent legislation on this topic, which will supplement the bill I introduced earlier this year in the following ways: First, it will put into law the freeze on any tax sale that has occurred of the home of a senior citizen, veteran or disabled individual, retroactively to July 2013. It will also establish a $2,000 threshold of taxes owed for any real property towards a tax sale. Furthermore, the bill will require the District to pay the owner of record prior to the tax sale any amount received by the District at the tax sale in excess of the amount of taxes due to the District. Finally, the bill will cap attorneys’ fees at $1,500.

These bills, along with the more comprehensive bill I introduced earlier in the year, will begin to make the changes we need to ensure that our government is able to perform its responsibility to collect taxes while putting additional safeguards in place for our most vulnerable residents.

Jack Evans Report: Back to School, Work

September 12, 2013

Summer is over, and the kids are all back at school. The routine has returned, and the Council’s schedule is no exception. We go back into session on Sept. 15. Our first legislative meeting will be held on Sept. 17.

Although the Council doesn’t formally meet between July 15 and Sept. 15, a Ward councilmember’s work is never done. My staff and I were busy all summer long addressing constituent issues around the Ward, such as parking, sidewalk, traffic and city service issues. I was also pleased to attend a number of community events, such as the 55th anniversary of Ben’s Chili Bowl. This iconic institution functions as a time capsule for our city, having survived the riots of the 1960s and hosting everyone from mayors to Bill Cosby to President Barack Obama.

On the subject of education, our public schools will continue to be a primary focus of mine this year. I am committed to providing top notch facilities for every student in the District. I identified the funding for the School Modernization Act a number of years ago, committing the staggering amount of $100 million per year to ensure that students in every Ward in the city would have access to state of the art facilities. Unfortunately, despite unparalleled facilities and the highest per-pupil operating budget in the nation, our schools continue to underperform. And despite having the most richly funded education system in the country, we still do not have a librarian at every school. Because of this, I introduced a bill to mandate that all schools have a school librarian, art teacher, music teacher, and physical education teacher, and am hopeful it will be enacted into law this year.

On a related point, we have spent a fortune renovating our neighborhood libraries, but they have irregular evening hours and are closed on Sundays, making it hard for families and children to use them for school projects. I introduced a bill for increased library hours last year and pushed for it to be included in our budget this year. As a result, beginning on Oct. 1, our libraries will be open for longer and more consistent hours, including Sundays. I also believe it is important for our children and young adults to have arts education. I identified an additional $6.8 million in our budget last year to fund arts initiatives in the District, filling a gap in programming left in our public schools, and pushed for a dedicated funding stream for the arts in future years that will work in a similar way to school modernization and ensure that these critical programs are funded every year.

Finally, the mayor and the Council must continue to focus on economic development and job creation. As the economy continues to improve, we must take advantage of opportunities to enhance the opportunities available for residents of all wards of the city. In that regard, we are beginning the application process for the 600 new jobs at the new Convention Center Hotel, all for District residents.

I look forward to the upcoming Council session and working on the challenges ahead.

Jack Evans Report: Benefits of Soccer

August 7, 2013

I am excited about the recently announced deal to build a soccer stadium in the District and want to explain why I think this will be good for our city. In case you haven’t seen it in the news, last month the District signed a preliminary agreement to build a “new, state-of-the-art, LEED-certified … 20,000-25,000… seat outdoor soccer stadium” that will also be used as an entertainment venue.

The initial plan is for the District to swap certain government-owned property, including the Reeves Center on U Street, to put together enough property in the larger Capitol Riverfront area for a stadium. I anticipate that this deal will be controversial, as any major economic development project in the city seems to be, so I want to give you a few reasons why I anticipate supporting this project in any action that requires Council approval.

First, it is important to know that the D.C. United club has agreed to pay for the actual stadium construction. At a cost of $150 million, this is a big commitment from a club whose fans have for years endured an increasingly decrepit RFK stadium – paint is peeling off the seats and the loudspeakers echo to the point that the announcers are nearly unintelligible.

Secondly, the site on U Street currently occupied by government offices can be developed into a thriving mixed-use property that generates substantial revenue for the city. This property could help to fill a gap between the quickly developing U Street area and the north Dupont-Adams Morgan area while contributing to the further economic development of the corridor.

Finally, the stadium area itself will be a catalyst for further development in the Capitol Riverfront area. I always tell people that we could have easily gone the way of Detroit and Baltimore in the 1990s, when people were steadily moving out of the city due to crime and government instability. Strategic economic development projects like Gallery Place and the Verizon Center, Nationals Park, and the Convention Center have all been anchors for future development that pay for themselves many times over in new tax revenue. These were 7-6 votes on the Council, and it took courage for many members to support these projects in the face of the opposition. Now, though, it’s hard to find anyone who opposed these projects, since they are all such dramatic success stories.

First the businesses and law firms move into a new area, then restaurants follow, and soon you have mixed-use development including condominiums, grocery stores and retail. This is a formula that I believe will work and I will continue to advocate for these types of projects moving forward.

Let’s Enjoy Summer

July 17, 2013

Is it summer yet? I think that with the arrival of July 4th and high temperatures reaching 100 degrees we have removed all doubt. Take a moment to check in with your elderly or ill neighbors who might need a little assistance. Weather like this can effect even the healthiest of us.

This 4th of July, I began my celebration as I always do at the annual Palisades 4th of July Parade. This was the parade’s 47th year. For those of you unfamiliar with the parade, this is a throwback to another time – a real small town parade. It begins around 11:00 am 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 Park. As an elected official, I always enjoy the opportunity to participate in local parades with family and friends. While I walked, others rode in the car or joined me walking and threw candy to all those watching and cheering along the parade route.

This year, with the citywide elections approaching, there seemed to be even more politicians than usual. But what would the 4th of July be without politicians? After the parade, we joined hundreds of others at the Palisades Park 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 a ballpark. Yes, the Nationals were in town, so off to Nationals Park we went. It was a gorgeous day for a baseball game, though a bit hot. In light of the 11:05 am start time, I missed about half of the game. There was still plenty of action from the Nationals’ hitters in the later innings, though, with the crucial Wilson Ramos homer and the Nationals beating the Brewers 8 to 5. The Nationals always seem to shine on the 4th of July – I read last year that that Ryan Zimmerman was 10 for 20 with four homers and 13 RBIs in six Independence Day games.
The next step in this great day was a trip home for a break and then off to watch the fireworks. John and Katherine were out of town visiting family in Minnesota, and Chris is out of town for a month at the Parsons School of Design. My wife and her son Sam and I had a great time, though, going to Nick’s on the Georgetown waterfront and watching from the boardwalk. What a terrific 20-minute fireworks display!

Neighborhood parades, Major League Baseball, world class fireworks – where else can you stay home and get all that?