DeMorning DeBonis: May 9, 2011

TODAY IS MAY 9, 2011 — DAY 124 OF THE GRAY ADMINISTRATION

It’s budgetary brass-tacks time at the D.C. Council this week. Today, members will hear one last round of testimony from folks looking to stave off service cuts and/or tax hikes before committee markups are held later in the week, and Tim Craig writes in today’s Post that “members appear to be deadlocked over whether to increase taxes on those earning $200,000 or more and how aggressively they want to push to hire additional police officers or fight proposed cuts in services.” In addition to the tax hike and cops cuts proposed by Mayor Vincent Gray, members are pushing back against the potential shuttering of homeless shelters (Jim Graham), increases in Circulator fares (Tommy Wells), and old parking meter hikes (Jack Evans). In the Examiner, Freeman Klopott notes that Council Chairman Kwame Brown, as expected, is sticking to his pledge not to raise income taxes — though he was “mum on the details” of where the $35 million to make up for Gray’s hike would come from (except to say that it won’t come from pension cuts). Tim counts Brown, Evans, Mary Cheh, David Catania, Muriel Bowser and their soon-to-be-colleague Vincent Orange as opponents of the tax hike, with Yvette Alexander a potential swing vote. Said Brown to the Examiner: “This isn’t going to be a year when the budget gets a 13-0 vote. ... Every council member has different leanings and represents different constituencies, and a unanimous vote is not realistic in relation to the finances of this city.”

AFTER THE JUMP — DCFPI poll says residents want their services saved — more Washingtonians say city is on wrong track — are Fred Cooke’s many roles in conflict — Wal-Mart was a “wash” in Chicago for jobs — Brodsky under new scrutiny from OAG, OIG — Chuck Grassley wants us all to be able to get guns

*** MAIN COURSE ***

SAVE OUR SERVICES — Hoping to offer a last-minute nudge to undecided council members, the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute commissioned a poll of about 500 city residents, finding that an “overwhelming majority of District voters think the city’s highest priority should be maintaining public services, not holding the line on taxes.” Nikita Stewart reports in the Post: “About 70 percent of those polled said maintaining public services should be the city government’s highest priority, while 23 percent thought holding down taxes should be. ... According to the poll, 78 percent of voters found Gray’s plan for corporations totally acceptable and 63 percent totally accepted the income tax hike on wealthier residents. But only 40 percent found the parking-garage tax increase totally acceptable and just 34 percent totally accepted a rise in the Circulator bus fare. When it came to cutting services, 64 percent of voters found Gray’s planned reduction to education totally unacceptable, with a strong majority of voters also finding unacceptable the proposed cuts to Social Security assistance and mental-health services.” Evans said the poll “should have focused on residents who would bear the brunt of the proposed tax increase. ... [He] questioned whether poll respondents would be supportive if surveyed about recent government spending on vehicles and hiring that has been criticized as wasteful. ‘People are mad about government,’ he said.” Meanwhile, in the Washington Times, Deborah Simmons writes that the poll provides a “solid foundation for the left to raise taxes so more money can be spent on public services — i.e. welfare, subsidized housing and public schools.” Also: Cuts to police, she writes, are “a problem Congress must correct.” And in a Sunday Post op-ed, Rabbi Daniel G. Zemel of Temple Micah and the Rev. Mark Horak of Holy Trinity Catholic Church write that Gray’s budget plan “will probably make the lives of thousands of low-income District residents even more difficult.”

WRONG TRACK — More from the DCFPI poll, which “also found that 41 percent believe the city is on the wrong track and that 35 percent believe the city is on the right track. The findings of the poll show starkly different sentiments about the city’s direction under [Gray] compared with his predecessor, Adrian M. Fenty. In January 2010, a Washington Post poll found that despite Fenty’s dismal approval ratings, 52 percent of residents thought the city was going in right direction and 29 percent thought it was going in the wrong direction. ... The poll did not ask why voters felt the city is on the wrong track, but it found that their trust in the city government to ‘use tax money well and deliver quality public services’ is poor. About 54 percent of voters said they ‘trust just a little’ or ‘do not trust at all’ in the city government to handle the tax money.”

FRED’S WORLD — In her Examiner column, Jonetta Rose Barras shines a light on the many roles of Frederick D. Cooke Jr. — lawyer, lobbyist, and “near permanent fixture in city politics for more than two decades.” Prompting Jonetta’s jeremiad is his recent representation of Kwame Brown in his dealings with the Office of Campaign Finance: “Government sources told me the council has never discussed Cooke’s representation of certain of its members. ‘There has never been an opinion issued,’ said one source. ‘How is Cooke being paid?’ Vladlen David Zvenyach, the legislature’s general counsel, said his office ‘had not released any publicly available opinions.’ When pressed about whether there had been any opinion — public or private — he said he ‘had no further comment,’ offering that his job is ‘to provide legal counsel to the members and the staff.’ He’s wrong. His obligation is to District residents, ensuring the integrity of the legislative branch is unimpeachable. Unfortunately, it isn’t. ... Cooke didn’t respond to multiple emails requesting a comment. Brown said Cooke ‘represents the Committee to Re-elect Kwame Brown’ as opposed to him personally — a distinction without a difference.”

WAL-MART AND JOBS — David Merriman and Joseph J. Persky of the University of Illinois pen a Sunday Post op-ed on their research into Wal-Mart’s entry into Chicago a half-decade ago: “Based on the disproportionate number of business closures close to Wal-Mart, we concluded that, after two years, the number of jobs lost by Wal-Mart’s nearby retail competitors essentially offset the number of jobs created at the new Wal-Mart. With this data, we were not able to directly study Wal-Mart’s impact on new businesses, but Wal-Mart may also have influenced new business openings. The affected competitors had offered relatively limited benefits and offered wages only slightly above the minimum wage. Thus, the wages and benefits of the lost jobs were probably quite similar to the wages and benefits at the new Wal-Mart. From the point of view of workers, Wal-Mart’s opening was close to a wash. ... Of course, a neighborhood’s retail characteristics can influence which competitors lose out when a store opens. The Chicago neighborhood we studied had a dense network of stores before Wal-Mart arrived, and many of these stores appeared to lose sales to Wal-Mart. Job loss might be less concentrated geographically in a place where competition is more sparse, as the proposed D.C. Wal-Mart sites are reported to be. In considering whether to encourage or oppose Wal-Mart’s entry into the District, our results suggest that job creation should not be an overriding factor.”

WHAT TOOK SO LONG? — D.C. Watch’s Dorothy Brizill with some very good questions about the Inspector General’s investigation into the fishy fire truck: “The most troublesome is why the inquiry took two years to complete. The OIG’s office has a staff of 120 employees and a budget of $15.6 million, so it is not short of the resources needed to do a timely investigation. Yet the OIG report reveals few new facts that weren’t already known in 2009, and the redacting of names serves only to protect the reputations of government employees whom the OIG accuses of violating District laws. ... If a scandal of this magnitude, with an OIG report confirming wrongdoing, does not result in any action being taken against any government employees, or any widespread reform, what possibly could or would have an impact on the operations of the dysfunctional Office of Contracting and Procurement?”

WIND THEM UP, CHUCK — Chuck Brodsky, chair of the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, is facing probes from the attorney general and inspector general’s offices, Klopott reports in the Examiner: “New allegations into the alleged ethical breach by Brodsky and attorney Emanuel Mpras led to the expanded inquiry, some source told The Washington Examiner. But it may also be the product of a political push to get Brodsky out of office. When former board member Mital Gandhi charged Brodsky with pushing through a regulation change favoring the wholesale company represented by Mpras, Gandhi might also have given the Vincent Gray administration the dirt it wanted to rid the city of an alcohol board chairman who has angered some community groups. It doesn’t help Brodsky that Mpras isn’t well liked.” But Brodsky tells Klopott the investigation is pushback against his skeptical attitude toward voluntary agreements — the far-from-voluntary licensing deals supported by ANCs, civic associations and community groups that have Gray’s ear. Says Brodsky: “They’ve painted me as a pariah and now they’re pushing against me.”

SENATOR NOTICES — Fox News covers the hiatus in D.C. handgun sales caused by the relocation of sole licensed gun dealer Charles Sykes — and finds that “at least one U.S. senator has taken notice and he’s not happy about what he sees as a violation of the Second Amendment right to bear arms. ‘Unfortunately, despite the Supreme Court ruling, the D.C. council has done everything in its power to restrict lawful gun owners from exercising their Second Amendment rights,’ Sen. Chuck Grassley said in an email to FoxNews.com. ‘How they go about doing that is up to them, but it’s wrong that the residents of the district can’t legally buy a gun and then bring it home.’ Grassley suggested that the city government register the guns or that owners of guns purchased legally elsewhere in the U.S. be allowed to possess them in D.C.”

RAISE THE ROOFS — Post architecture-and-planning columnist Roger K. Lewis joins the recent calls to ease city building-height restrictions: “In the historic area of Washington planned by Pierre L’Enfant, height-limit changes should be minimal, ranging from no increase to only a couple of stories. Beyond the central city, increased height makes sense on sites served by transit, sites where taller buildings would face wide streets, public open spaces and park land. Taller buildings can capitalize on favorable views while harmoniously complementing the use, density and scale of neighboring buildings. Most important, it’s not enough to lift the District’s height limits just to produce more square footage and taller buildings. Allowing more height also must be a catalyst for lifting the quality of the city’s architecture.”

*** SMALL PLATES ***

Why do ward boundaries matter, anyway? (City Paper)

As far as Sulaimon Brown is concerned, he has not been served (D.C. Wire)

Michelle Rhee, Scott Walker speak to Tea Party-connected American Federation for Children today; union protests planned (Post Now, Examiner, Metro Labor Council)

More on the calls for a federal “Erase to the Top” probe (Post)

”The D.C. College Access Program ... is a rare example of sustained success in the perennially troubled city school system.” (Post)

Jim Graham presses acting DYRS director at budget hearing (WaTimes)

Construction business picks up (Capital Business)

Inside OP’s “bombshell” GU campus plan report (Vox Populi, Patch, The Hoya)

Metro’s top overtime earners (Examiner)

Reason for ANC member’s opposition to Georgetown project: “There are going to be fat people in bikinis out there and nobody wants to see them.” (Patch)

Osprey nest delays Anacostia Riverwalk Trail construction (Post)

National attention on OP’s live-near-work incentives (Time)

What if Kathy Henderson held a neighborhood meeting and no one came — except Fox 5! (WTTG-TV)

DCPL computer classes attack the digital divide (Post)

Really not much in the Register last week (DCist)

More about the fabulous Homicide Watch (Nieman Lab)

Wish Tim Craig luck — he’s headed to Iraq for a couple of months (@timcraigpost)

*** ON THE MENU ***

Gray holds cabinet meeting, 3 p.m. at One Judiciary Square; holds Ward 2 budget town hall, 7 p.m. at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, 1315 8th St. NW — D.C. Council hearing on the FY2012 Budget Support Act, 10 a.m. in JAWB 500

Mike DeBonis covers Congress and national politics for The Washington Post. He previously covered D.C. politics and government from 2007 to 2015.

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