TODAY IS APRIL 4, 2011 — DAY 89 OF THE GRAY ADMINISTRATION
Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s first budget plan is out, and, as mentioned Friday, the theme might as well be “everybody hurts.” Read Nikita Stewart’s Post budget wrap-up, and note this quote from Hizzoner: “This is a tough budget. I’m not going to represent it as anything else.” The headlines include heavy cuts to social service programs, including further rails on TANF cash assistance, and a passel of new taxes, most notably a $31 million hike in high-earner income taxes, the first parking-tax hike since 1976 and a variety of business tax changes that would mainly hit multistate corporations. The early drama: D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown said he’s “very, very, very unlikely” to support an income tax increase, and finance committee chair Jack Evans says it’s “one of the worst [budgets] I’ve seen in my time here.” Also: WBJ’s Michael Neibauer quotes reaction from D.C. Chamber CEO Barbara Lang, a prominent Gray backer: “I am obviously disappointed,” noting that “nobody in the business community was consulted” about the Gray plan. On the bright side for Hizzoner, Tommy Wells offered Gray a vote of confidence, WTOP notes, as did Phil Mendelson. In a Sunday night interview with WUSA-TV’s Bruce Johnson, Gray touted the sure-to-be-underappreciated fact that the budget doesn’t dip into the city’s savings account for the first time in years.
AFTER THE JUMP — complete reaction to the Gray budget proposal — CFO put kibosh on Gray borrowing plan — cops number could dip dangerously low — Rochelle Webb sent packing — is DCPS still on the path to reform? — why taxi medallions are a bad idea
*** MAIN COURSE ***
BUDGET COVERAGE — WAMU-FM and Examiner both point out that the income tax hike represents the first major fracture between Gray and Brown. As Beth Solomon notes at The Georgetown Dish, the winner of the at-large special election could have the decisive vote on what the budget will look like. Colby King has a big-picture view in his Saturday Post column: “[A]fter all of the weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth that will ensue, programs most certainly will be cut and new revenue most certainly will be raised. The only question is which part of the budget gets slashed, and who, when the Sturm und Drang has ended, gets the honor of contributing more money to the treasury. That some will get a bill and others will get pain is a given.” He notes that Marion Barry is offering one of many “self-serving, unconstructive proposals” among city legislators. Deborah Simmons of The Washington Times is not a fan of the Gray budget plan: “Like most progressives who say they want to help the disadvantaged, [Gray] hasn’t delivered a budget that spells reform. Indeed, his policies mimic those of his predecessor and raises taxes to pay for them.” She notes Gray cut only 170 FTEs. More from WRC-TV, DCist, WJLA-TV, WaTimes.
PRO AND CON — The team at the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute renders their verdict on a budget that seems to adopt the “balanced approach” they have long advocated: “While we applaud Mayor Gray for a more balanced approach to revenue, we believe the same balance should apply on the cuts side as well. Two of every three dollars cut from the budget would affect programs that serve low-income and vulnerable DC residents, even though these programs only make up about one quarter of the budget. By reducing services that keep families stable – such as mental health services and eviction prevention — these cuts would undermine efforts to improve public education outcomes, reduced crime, and tackle unemployment.” Jason Cherkis also notes deep cuts to mental heath services. And here is Evans’ bombastic statement: “In its current form, there is absolutely no way that I will support this budget. ... The fact that we continue to rely on tax increases and gimmicks while failing to address our broader fiscal issues is nothing short of amazing to me. ... How long will we allow ourselves to remain the least competitive jurisdiction, while at the same time repeatedly asking District residents for more? With close to 35% of District residents using our parking garages on a daily basis, how Mayor Gray can suggest that they should pay more is beyond me. ... I am gravely concerned about this budget and can only hope that my colleagues will recognize it for what it is and address the many issues facing the District in a responsible manner.”
COPS CONCERNS — WTTG-TV’s Matt Ackland and the Examiner’s Freeman Klopott both raise questions about Gray’s commitment to police staffing. Writes Klopott: “Gray has proposed the city hire 120 officers next year ... but that won’t likely be enough to prevent the force from shrinking to a size Police Chief Cathy Lanier has called problematic. ‘Once we go below 3,800, we’re going to have trouble,’ Lanier recently testified during a D.C. Council hearing.” The math goes like this: There’s 3,879 sworn officers now, MPD estimates it’s losing about 15 officers a month; it takes almost a year to train a new officer, so by the time Gray’s 120 recruits hit the street, the force could be under 3,700. Phil Mendelson tells Ackland “there is a commitment to maintaining the strength of the department above 3800.”
CAPITAL BUDGET — Jonathan O’Connell looks at how Gray’s team is struggling to finance a passel of major redevelopment projects while confronting the city’s 12 percent borrowing cap: “Gray and his deputy mayor for planning and economic development, Victor Hoskins, are planning to create nongovernmental entities to oversee major, long-term development projects, including Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the east campus of the former St. Elizabeths hospital. Both require millions of dollars’ worth of roads, sewers and other public infrastructure for which the city will likely have to pay. But the city has almost no freedom to borrow new money because of a legal limit on borrowing that Gray helped create while on the council. ... [I]n March Gray tried to skirt the cap by having staff suggest to officials in [CFO Natwar Gandhi]’s office that the city register the new development organizations as nonprofit entities and allow them to borrow for infrastructure without the debt counting against the cap. Gandhi’s staff, which advocated for the cap in the first place, wasn’t having it. ... Hoskins said he is considering other funding sources.” Do note that Gray has committed nearly $100 million to the streetcar program, a significant ongoing commitment to the program that would guarantee expansion beyond H Street NE to other corridors. Lydia DePillis of Housing Complex looks at the proposed library construction pipeline, with Capitol View, Woodridge, Southwest, Palisades and Woodridge branches proposed for replacement or major rehab before 2017.
WEBB A GONER — Rochelle Webb, Gray’s pick to lead the Department of Employment Services, made a sudden exit Friday, dismissed three months after relocating from Arizona — then finding herself as a central player in Gray’s hiring and spending controversies. As I note: “The departure is a major setback for Gray, who promised an intense focus on lowering unemployment and improving job training for District residents. Webb was expected to lead a transformation of an agency that had been heavily focused on the summer jobs program in recent years.” Alan Suderman reports at Loose Lips that Webb “was fired ... allegedly for approving inappropriate moving expenses for some of her aides who came with her to the District from Arizona, according to a Wilson Building source who has been briefed on Webb’s dismissal. The items Webb’s aides bought included a TV, furniture and towels, according to the source, who says Webb allegedly signed off on the purchases.” Said Gray on WUSA-TV last night: “There was some personnel issues that we were concerned about. ... She has now moved on.” Also WaTimes, WBJ, WTOP.
VINCE’S H.R. MESS — In her Examiner column, Jonetta Rose Barras takes a look at Judy Banks’ now-expired tenure as Gray’s human resources director. Banks, Barras claims, was hired to “ensure his people were put on the payroll posthaste,” in the process “forc[ing] workers to violate rules — sometimes threatening them when they resisted her orders.” Barras goes on to note that, under Banks, “Background checks weren’t conducted before individuals started work. In some cases, DC 2000 employment application forms weren’t completed or signed until after the [D.C. Council’s government operations committee], headed by Chairman Pro Tempore Mary Cheh, launched its investigation. But a source told me Cheh’s office had heard complaints before the hearing about Banks’ involvement in the flawed hirings and mistreatment of personnel workers.” Another nugget: “Angelia Rowe-Garner is the new interim human resources director. But sources said don’t expect any dramatic change. She has been described as the ‘goddaughter’ of Lorraine Green, the former chairwoman of Gray’s 2010 campaign who is at the center of current mayoral scandals.”
WHITHER SCHOOL REFORM — On the eve of this year’s DC-CAS testing, Bill Turque takes a tough look at a D.C. Public School system in transition: “In the year since the last citywide testing, the quest to transform the struggling school system has itself undergone a sea change. A new mayor, the second since schools were placed under executive control in 2007, is trying to regain his political footing after allegations of improper hiring practices. A new acting chancellor is attempting to preserve past gains and pursue new ones with a tightened budget. And the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System, regarded by officials as the critical metric for assessing academic progress, faces new scrutiny about its accuracy. ... The multiple issues have some parents asking: Has D.C. school reform hit a pothole, or a wall?” Adding to the questions: “Members of the senior management team that Rhee formed continue to peel away. General Counsel James Sandman and Anthony Tata, chief operating officer, left earlier this year. Last week, family and community engagement chief Peggy O’Brien announced her resignation. Erin McGoldrick, the District’s head of data and accountability — and a key player in [Michelle Rhee]’s efforts to instill a ‘data-driven’ culture inside the school system — has told officials she will leave this summer. There are other departures further down the management ladder and whispers of concern that the momentum of change under Acting Chancellor Kaya Henderson may be slowing. ‘The sense is that the foot is off the gas,’ said one veteran administrator.” Turque adds at D.C. Schools Insider that Henderson said the following the DCPS principals at a recent meeting: “Tons of negative press is swirling around right now. ... You know why it is swirling now? ... To knock us off our game. So keep your eyes on the prize — delivering to our kids.”
’ERASE TO THE TOP’ UPODATE — About that “new scrutiny” of DCPS testing: Reaction continues to roll in to last week’s USA Today article on questionable erasures. Richard Whitmire, Rhee’s admiring biographer, makes a valuable point in the course of a New York Daily News op-ed defense of Rhee: “I can’t tell if the erasures were the result of cheating or aggressive test-taking strategies passed along by the teaching staff. But I can observe something far more important: Rhee’s track record in D.C. is not based on the D.C. tests. Rather, she is measured by a far higher standard, the so-called ‘gold standard’ of testing, the separate federal test known as NAEP, or the National Assessment of Educational Progress. That test, administered by federal experts, has never been comprised. Never even a whiff of controversy. And the NAEP shows that between 2007 and 2009 (when Rhee was chancellor) D.C. students made significant progress not seen in comparable urban districts.” A member of the Baltimore Sun editorial board says that Charm City stands to learn from the affair. Daily Kos looks at the “rise, and looming fall, of ‘education reformer’ Michelle Rhee.”
THE CASE AGAINST MEDALLIONS — Reason Foundation scholar Sam Staley makes the case against taxi medallions in a Sunday Post op-ed: “There goes the neighborhood — literally — as taxi drivers inevitably would abandon low-margin trips in outer neighborhoods such as Anacostia to concentrate on the milk runs to the airport or serve higher-income customers along K Street and Capitol Hill. That conclusion may seem exaggerated, but other cities that have restricted taxicab availability have had that kind of result. It’s simple economics. Drivers focus on fares that generate the highest return, and their ability to do so will increase as competition becomes more limited. ... The big winners in a medallion system are large existing companies. Once medallion systems are put in place and the supply is restricted, as the D.C. ordinance explicitly aims to do, the price of medallions goes through the roof. ... The biggest losers in this system, however, are likely to be outer neighborhoods such as lower-income sections of Southeast and Northeast. With substantially fewer taxis available to meet demand, drivers will pick the most lucrative routes. ... The most likely outcome for the District’s lower-income neighborhoods is the emergence of a thriving, if dysfunctional, black market for cab services. While these so-called ‘gypsy’ cabs fill a legitimate demand for transportation, their inability to use the formal legal and regulatory system to enforce contracts and performance standards puts both customers and drivers at risk.” The medallion issue also came up on WTOP’s Politics Program, where Tommy Wells said “we have to look at a medallion system in terms of ‘What’s the problem that it’s solving?’” He adds: “I don’t really think we have the structure right now to administer a medallion system. Our taxicab commission is somewhat inoperable.”
TOMMY FOR SEKOU — Wells delivers an endorsement of Sekou Biddle in perhaps the lowest profile manner possible: in a news release issued on a Friday that happens to be the day the city budget is released. Tim Craig reports at D.C. Wire: “Wells issued a statement through the Biddle campaign announcing his support one day after council member David A. Catania (I-At-large) also got behind the effort. Wells called Biddle, an interim member of the council pending the April 26 special election, ‘a strong partner for building a livable walkable city.’ ... ‘I’ve watched [Biddle] cut his own independent path.’ Wells, the author of the city’s 5-cent tax on plastic bags, maintains a following among environmentalists and advocates for smart growth policies. Ward 1 activist Bryan Weaver, also a candidate in the race, has strong ties to many of those same communities.” Check for Twitter for groans from Weaverites disappointed that Wells forsook their guy. See also Four26, natch.
*** SMALL PLATES ***
Parsing The Current’s “baffling” endorsement of prime advertiser Biddle (District Curmudgeon)
McKinley Tech principal is back on the job after investigator’s ouster (D.C. Schools Insider)
The 2012 Giro d’Italia will not be starting in D.C. (DCist)
Some Ward 7 residents want OCF probe of Yvette Alexander’s constituent service fund (WaTimes)
Southwest residents accuse DDOT of Circulator “bait-and-switch” (Post)
Should the National Gallery take over the Federal Trade Commission building? (Post)
What Michelle Rhee, Scott Walker and Ken Cuccinelli have in common (City Paper)
Gray pick for Historic Preservation Review Board could prove controversial (Housing Complex)
Transit police nab Metro groper! (WUSA-TV)
St. E’s hiring generates protests (Capital Business)
Georgetown U. bows to neighborhood pressure, adds more student beds to campus plan (Vox Populi)
DC-CAS testing starts today — which means it’s time for another video from the good folks at E.L. Haynes PCS (YouTube)
There are bad lawyers, and there are Bad Lawyers (Post)
Correction from last week: Corinne Beckwith is being nominated to the D.C. Court of Appeals, not Superior Court (Legal Times)
CityCenter DC, brought to you by the nation of Qatar (WBJ)
Buyer for failing Pop John Paul II Cultural Center withdraws (Detroit Free Press)
Stuff now being sold in Metro stations (Examiner)
Hey, look: Another pro-voucher op-ed by Kevin Chavous! (Post)
*** ON THE MENU ***
Gray attends Missionary Baptist Ministers Conference meeting, noon at Trinidad Baptist Church, 1611 Benning Road NE; breaks ground on CityCenter DC, 2 p.m. — D.C. Council government operations hearing on “Pension Protection and Sustainability Act of 2011,” 1 p.m. in JAWB 500 — At-large candidate forums: 7 p.m. at LaSalle Elementary School, 501 Riggs Road NE (hosted by the Lamond-Riggs Civic Association); and 7 p.m. at the Chevy Chase Community Center, 5601 Connecticut Ave. NW (hosted by the Chevy Chase Citizens Association)