DC for Democracy is a leading unaligned progressive group of activists, community leaders and everyday voters in the District of Columbia working for positive change in our local government and statehood for the residents of Washington, DC. We are the Washington, D.C. local group of Democracy for America (DFA).

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Our next meeting is Wednesday, July 12 at 6:30pm in the large conference room at the Dorothy Height library(3935 Benning Road, NE). It will include an endorsement vote in the 2017 Virginia elections.
RSVP on Facebook or here.

DC4D has a dynamic Affordable Housing team that is building expertise and expanding DC4D’s work on this critical issue. Active members include Joe Barrios (Coordinator), Nikko Bilitza, Renee Bowser, Ruth Caplan Mat Hanson, Elinor Hart, Kesh Ladduwahetty, Akaii Lineberger, Andrea Rosen (Steering Committee POC), David Schwartzman, and John Zottoli. The team produced an DC4D Housing resolution, which was passed in May, which addressed the Comprehensive Plan, regulation of the short-term rental market, and the FY18 Budget.

The Comprehensive Plan represents an entirely new area of engagement for DC4D. The Comp Plan (as it is generally called) is a 20-year framework begun in 2006 that guides land use, housing, economic development, transportation and planning. It is designed to be a democratic and participatory process, beginning with amendments proposed by the public, a draft plan, more opportunities for public participation, and hearings and a vote in the DC Council. The Affordable Housing resolution proposed broad principles that needed to be translated into the specific amendments required by the Office of Planning. Joe, Akaii, Andrea, Nikko, and Renee put considerable time into the amendment process and should be congratulated for their hard work. In particular, DC4D owes a debt of gratitude to Joe for his leadership and commitment to this issue from start to finish, including submission of the amendments on June 22nd.

Read DC4D’s final amendments here.
Learn more about the Comp Plan amendment process here.
To join DC4D’s affordable housing team, email us at dcfordemocracy@gmail.com.

This Tuesday, the DC Council held its first vote on the FY18 budget. While a more complete analysis will take time, I will report for now on those matters addressed directly in the DC4D budget resolution passed on May 9th, on which we based our Open Letter to the DC Council. The FY18 Budget turns out to be a mixed bag, just like the Councilmembers who voted on it.

The Pluses

On the plus side of the ledger, we celebrate: 1) funding for repairing public housing ($19 million according to the Fair Budget Coalition), 2) almost full funding for the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results (NEAR) Act, with $2 million for the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, and 3) full funding for start-up costs for Paid Family Leave.

The Minuses

The Council failed to adequately fund even the band-aid responses to the crisis of homelessness and affordable housing. Rental assistance was not meaningfully expanded, the Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF) funding remained flat, and we are not on track to end chronic homelessness, as promised. The Council has failed to provide leadership on the Number 1 issue for our members and the public at large. And while Paid Family Leave is funded, its future is uncertain, given the Chairman’s willingness to entertain alternatives favored by Big Business.

DC Tax Structure
Source (Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy)

The Council voted to continue a pattern of cutting estate taxes and business taxes, despite the fact that DC does NOT have a progressive tax structure (as the above graphic shows). Councilmember Grosso proposed two amendments: 1) an amendment to delay the estate tax cut, which was supported by Councilmembers Nadeau, Silverman, and T. White, and 2) an amendment to limit the business tax cut for firms earning less than $10 million, which was supported by Councilmembers Nadeau and Silverman. Both amendments were defeated by a super-majority of the Council. Arguments for the amendments were published by Councilmembers Grosso and Silverman, while arguments against were published by Councilmember R. White. I encourage you to read these arguments, as they are revealing, and to thank those Councilmembers who voted the right way.

The Takeaway

The votes on the tax cut amendments demonstrate that a super-majority of the Council are out of step with the public on the vital matters of revenue and spending. What can explain such a “democracy deficit?” One factor is the power of Big Business and the Federal City Council, which engineered the current model of economic development since the 1990s, and whose CEO, Mayor Tony Williams, chaired the Tax Revision Commission whose recommendations were largely adopted by the Council.

We are heartened that a handful of Councilmembers stood squarely with the people on both amendments. We are dismayed by the votes of the rest of the Council, and in particular by the votes of Councilmembers Allen, McDuffie, and R. White, for whom we actively campaigned. Tuesday was a wake-up call to the sobering reality that while the current Council supports some significant progressive reforms, we cannot rely on them to consistently represent our values. We will need to redouble our efforts, in concert with our progressive allies, to make the DC Council more accountable to the people of DC.

Dear Chairman Mendelson and Councilmembers Allen, Bonds, Cheh, Evans, Gray, Grosso, McDuffie, Nadeau, Silverman, Todd, R. White, and T. White,

We are writing on behalf of the 600+ members of DC for Democracy to urge you to vote this Tuesday for an FY18 budget that serves all the people of DC.

As you know, the city’s current prosperity has not reached all of its residents. DC still faces extreme wealth inequality, gentrification/displacement, and concentrated poverty. This is not acceptable, and we expect the Council’s budget to recognize and address these problems.

The Council must not vote to award $40 million in FY18 alone in estate and business tax cuts that would go to wealthy residents. Those funds are urgently needed for more important priorities, including: 1) repair and expansion of public housing, 2) rental assistance, 3) permanent supportive housing for singles and families, 4) additional staff for the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs to hold slumlords accountable, and 5) full funding for the NEAR Act, including $6 million for the Office of Neighborhood Engagement & Safety. Passing estate and business tax cuts instead would prove that the Council is far out of touch with the needs of the general public.

It is simply unacceptable for the Council to award high-income tax cuts in a city with the highest income inequality and an affordable housing crisis that has been exacerbated by government coziness with luxury developers and the failure to build real affordable housing. We commend the Council for making significant progress towards a more progressive tax structure, but we have still not done enough. Estate and business tax cuts are an unwise step, given that high-income households still pay a smaller share of income in local taxes than middle-income families. We are intrigued by a DCFPI proposal to limit the business tax cut to small businesses, a measure supported by Councilmember Grosso. While one can debate whether $5 million is the appropriate cut-off, we would be open to a compromise measure that seeks to target the business tax cuts to locally-owned small businesses, which offer out-sized benefits to the local economy.

The Council must also fund the start-up costs for the new Paid Family Leave program. DC has sufficient reserve funds to cover the additional $20 million needed to implement this program, especially if it passes the Reserve Funds Improvement Act. It is vital that the Council maintain its commitment to the Paid Family Leave legislation passed last year after two years of debate. It is unacceptable to go back to square one at this point.

A budget is a statement of values, and DC deserves a budget that reflects the values of this city: equality, justice, and compassion for our fellow citizens in need. We will pay close attention to the budget vote this Tuesday, and urge you to vote for an FY18 budget that serves all the people of DC.

Sincerely,

Kesh Ladduwahetty, Chair
Andra Wicks, Treasurer
Dan Wedderburn, Assistant Treasurer
Jeremiah Lowery, Ombudsman
Noah Van Gilder, Secretary
Keith Ivey, Political Director
Zach Schalk, Communications Chair
Jonathan Silverman, Membership Chair
Jeremy Koulish, IT Chair
Roy Harrison, Fundraising Chair
Andrea Rosen, At-Large member
[This statement by DC for Democracy’s Steering Committee is based on the resolution passed by our members on May 9th.]

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