As perhaps the D.C. Council’s most business-friendly member, Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) is not particularly accustomed to receiving anything other than a pleasant reception when addressing local business elites.
But Evans got a testy reception this morning, when dozens of Washington Interfaith Network members stood between him and the door to the Destination D.C. offices downtown, where Evans was attending a breakfast meeting of the D.C. Business Coalition.
The DCBC is a little-known but high-powered network that includes heavyweight interests such as the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, the Apartment and Office Building Association, the Consortium of Universities and the D.C. Building Industry Association. Last year, the group urged city leaders to pass a budget that is “fiscally responsible and curbs the unsustainable growth of government.”
That is code for policy decisions — lower taxes, lower spending — that stand at odds with WIN’s priorities of increasing affordable housing and jobs through D.C. government intervention. And, readers of this blog will note, Evans last December pronounced himself in lockstep with the group’s goals.
Evans stood in front of hundreds of WIN members and promised, among other things, to spend $44 million out of any end-of-the-fiscal-year surplus to fund housing and jobs projects.
Well, there is a surplus — to the tune of $240 million — but Evans is insisting that it stay in the city’s bank account, not be spent on projects of any kind.
WIN is interpreting that as a prelude to reneging on his promises to fund jobs and affordable housing, and — in keeping with their recent promises to do a better job holding officials accountable for their promises — they showed up this morning in part to call Evans on the carpet.
“We asked that he not make any promises to the business community that would break promises that he’s already made to us in a public meeting,” said the Rev. Roger Gench, a WIN leader and pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church.
Evans, however, takes issue with the suggestion that he’s backing off anything. “I’m not going to renege on my promise,” he said. In an interview this morning, he parsed the language of the pledge he agreed to — which calls for $44 million from the “[fiscal 2012] surplus or other sources.”
The FY12 surplus, Evans notes, won’t be certain until next February, and he agreed this morning to sit down with WIN leaders to discuss ways to fund their priorities.
“I told them the question did not make any sense,” he said of the FY12 reference. “They don’t listen; that’s WIN’s problem.”
Evans insists that a law passed by the council in recent years means that the surplus can’t be spent; it can only go to build the city’s financial reserves. I noted that he helped pass the law, and he could help change it. “I wouldn’t change that law,” he said. “That’s a good law. But there are other ways to fund that stuff.”
WIN organizer Amy Vruno acknowledged that there was a “typo” in a late-night e-mail sent to Evans before he made his pledge. But she says previous meetings and documents shared with Evans made it clear that the group was referring to the current surplus, for fiscal 2011.
“He can decide whether that’s going to be popular in the court of popular opinion,” she said of Evans’s parsing.