Trying to Put The Brakes On Cabbies

By Nikita Stewart and Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, July 2, 2009

D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) wants to reduce the number of licensed cabdrivers. He introduced legislation this week to begin looking at a way to "cap" the cabbies.

Graham, whose committee oversees the taxicab industry, said the city has 8,000 licensed operators and 1,000 applicants who have passed the tests but have not completed the licensing process. That seems to be more licensed operators per capita than any other city in the world, he said: "This boat is going to sink by its own weight."

The switch from zones to meters and the economy have hit the pockets of some cabdrivers. And competition isn't helping.

Applicants have inundated the system since tests resumed last year; the city had stopped giving exams when questions were leaked. There was evidence of cheating in 2005.

Graham said he did not know how the city would achieve a cap on drivers but said one possibility is requiring medallions or certificates. He said the city also should reconsider whether to continue giving applicants three chances to pass the exam.

Hitting the Books for $190 Million

Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) met with City Administrator Neil O. Albert last week to begin plotting a strategy for closing the District's revenue shortfall.

The meeting, which included Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's budget team, comes as Gray is sending signals he doesn't want the city to use its reserve fund to close a $190 million shortfall in the current year's budget. District leaders also face a $150 million gap in the 2010 budget that the council approved last month. And the gap is projected to grow to $240 million in 2011.

"Do we try to deal with all of this now, or do we use the contingency fund that will just push the problems out further?" Gray asked in an interview. "Do we try to solve the problem fundamentally, or do we try to buy time?"

In announcing the revised revenue numbers, Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi suggested that Fenty (D) remove $190 million from the reserve fund to close this year's budget gap, to be paid back in fiscal 2010 and 2011.

Gray said he's exploring other strategies -- perhaps involving major cuts this summer -- to avoid using the reserve fund. One option involves shifting $190 million from the 2010 budget to the current year's spending plan. The council would then have to reduce the 2010 spending plan by $340 million before the summer recess.

"I don't see any alternative to eventually having to substantially reduce services unless someone proposes new taxes, and I don't know if there is an appetite for that," Gray said.

The council was scheduled to go on recess July 15, but that has been postponed to the end of the month to address the budget.

"We cannot go on recess until this is solved," Gray said. "There are no easy choices."

Never Too Soon to Campaign

Let the 2010 elections begin.

The Rev. Anthony Motley launched his campaign last weekend for one of two seats on the council.

Motley, a 60-year-old community activist, has been known most recently for being at the side of council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) during his kidney transplant.

A Democrat turned independent, he hopes to get an at-large seat held by Phil Mendelson (D) or David A. Catania (I).

Born in Detroit, Motley moved to the District with his family as a toddler and has spent most of his life in the city.

He said in an interview that he wants to eliminate some divisions in the city: not only involving geography and race, but also between ministers and the gay community.

Motley said he pulled together a meeting between the two groups to talk about the legalization of gay marriage. Motley, who said he has supported domestic partnerships and other gay issues, said he has not decided about legalizing same-sex nuptials. "I'm evolving on that," he said. "I have not gotten to the point that I can say definitively."

Mendelson crafted the legislation to recognize same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions, and Catania has promised to introduce a bill this year to legalize gay marriage in the District.

Motley said he is not targeting one council member in his bid. "Two seats are up, and one of those seats belongs to Anthony Jerome Motley. I'm going to get it," he said.

Sulaimon Brown, a former campaign volunteer for Fenty, also kicked off his campaign last weekend to challenge the mayor. Brown says on his Web site that he's a triathlete. Just like Fenty.

Brown also plans to target the HIV/AIDS epidemic and forge a better relationship with the D.C. Council, his Web site says.

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