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 & federal government and statehood for the residents of Washington, DC. We are the Washington, D.C. local group of Democracy for America (DFA).

TO JOIN US, email us at dcfordemocracy@gmail.com.
To join us on Facebook, click here.

We generally meet on the second Wednesday of the month. Our next meetup is Wednesday, October 14, 2015 at 7pm, place TBD.

by Dan Wedderburn, Chair, DC4D Government Reform Committee

Working together with several other local and national organizations, DC For Democracy is making remarkable progress to create a small donor public match financing program for mayoral, city council and attorney general candidates.

What is Small Donor Public Financing?

It’s a proven way to help level the playing field by empowering candidates who truly represent the priorities of DC residents, not just the tiny percent that donate the majority of campaign funds in DC elections. Big donors such as corporations, lobbyists and developers do not donate out of kindness – they expect something in return, and usually get it. The result? Government by the people, i.e., democracy, is thwarted. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Public match financing means the city will set up a special public fund in order to match contributions from small donors. Purely for example purposes, DC could provide a 5 to 1 match for donors who contribute between $5 and $100. Thus $100 would be matched by $500 for a total individual contribution of $600. New York City uses a similar structure in its local elections, and the results have been nothing short of profound.

So How do we Get Public Financing in DC?

Here in the District, Council Chair Phil Mendelson recently announced support of public financing, and we know longtime DC4D member Elissa Silverman is with us. CMs David Grosso and Kenyan McDuffie championed a similar bill in 2013, and we expect they remain supportive of the plan. And we expect others to be as well once concrete legislation is on the table.

That’s a good start, but there’s still a long way to go. It’s up to us to build the political will to enact game-changing legislation. So several DC4D members are working with local partners (DC Working Families, Fair Budget Coalition, LIUNA) and national partners (U.S. PIRG, Public Citizen, Demos, Common Cause) to develop policy priorities and rally public support.

We’ve launched a sign-on letter to our elected officials as a first step. Getting a great many organizations throughout the city signed on will send a strong message that small donor public financing needs to be a priority.

It’s time for DC4D members to step up and help gain support from organizations, especially ones you may be part of, and get them to join the effort. Download a copy of the letter, take it to any groups you may be part of and ask them to sign on:
• your community or political organization
• your issue or constituency group
• your ANC

All hands on deck!

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson is proposing to accelerate $71 million in tax cuts to wealthy individuals and businesses. While he justifies them with rosy rhetoric about “progressive tax reform,” these tax giveaways aren’t progressive, and they aren’t reform. And worse, this move is being rammed through with little warning to the public. In other words, the Chairman’s maneuver is misguided in substance and in process.

The Council Chair would have the public believe that he is merely implementing the recommendations of the Tax Revision Commission (TRC). He is not. The tax package that Mendelson pushed through last year represented the Council’s priorities, not those of the TRC. The Council chose to ignore $67 million in revenue increases that the TRC proposed to ensure our fiscal stability. The public should be very clear: these tax cuts are the responsibility of the Council, not the TRC.

A fair and responsible budget requires that during each budget season, the Council would weigh the costs and benefits of each tax cut in the context of the fiscal needs at the time, and with the maximum participation of the public in making those decisions. Instead, Chairman Mendelson plans to push through these tax cuts on June 30, moving their scheduled implementation up by a year. The public will not know their cost until the day of the vote, when the Chief Financial Officer will release an estimate. This lack of transparency ensures that the public will have no time to weigh in, and therefore gives the Council Chair maximum power to do as he will with virtually no scrutiny.

We call upon the Council to reject any plans for automatic implementation and re-consider the tax cuts alongside other critical funding priorities as new revenue appears.

DC for Democracy also opposes three specific giveaways within this plan. Even after some modest positive changes in recent years, our tax code remains unfair and regressive: working- and middle-income families will still pay a notably higher percentage of their income in taxes than the wealthiest.

Nevertheless, the tax cuts being accelerated under this proposal are clearly tilted towards the wealthiest individuals. It would:

  • Reduce the marginal tax rate of individuals earning over $350,000 and up to $1,000,000 per year from 8.95% to 8.75%.
  • Cut the estate tax by raising the threshold that triggers paying the estate tax from $1 million to the federal level (currently $5.25 million).
  • Slash the business franchise tax from 9.4% to 8.25%, a blunt-axe approach that benefits giant corporations and developers.

The high-end individual income tax and estate tax cuts would bestow an estimated $18.3 million annually upon the DC’s wealthiest families, at a time when income inequality in the District of Columbia is among the worst of any city in the United States. While we support targeted support for true locally-based small businesses, the proposed business tax cuts are decidedly not targeted, giving more of our limited dollars to wealthy developers and multinational corporations who are already enjoying hundreds of millions of dollars in economic subsidies. DC for Democracy members stood against these unnecessary giveaways as they were being formulated by the Tax Revision Commission, we stood against them as the Council considered the TRC’s recommendations last year, and we continue to stand against them.

Regardless of whether or not these three giveaways are ultimately approved, we want to know whether our elected Councilmembers are willing to support them on the record. Therefore, we call for stand-alone votes on each of the provisions included in the package.

We are counting on those Councilmembers who believe in openness and transparency in government to put their principles into action and stand up to Chairman Mendelson’s unilateral maneuver.

On May 27, the Council will hold their first vote on the Fiscal Year 2016 budget, the single most important piece of legislation this year. DC for Democracy is working with the Fair Budget Coalition to ensure that important investments, particularly in affordable housing, are maintained, and to urge the Council to increase investments in such programs as rent supplements and tenant protections.

We have prepared the following letter to Councilmembers and hope that you will join the steering committee in signing it. We will hand deliver the letter to the Councilmembers in the next week.

Click here to sign the letter.

Dear Councilmember ________,

We are members of DC for Democracy, a progressive all-volunteer grassroots organization that promotes the political empowerment of ordinary citizens. We are residents, voters and taxpayers in the District of Columbia who appreciate that the annual budget is the single most powerful tool for aligning our government with our values.

DC for Democracy is an active member of the Fair Budget Coalition and we support their recommendations for the FY2016 budget. In particular, we applaud the investment of $100 million in the Housing Production Trust Fund. This sum would create and preserve 1,000 affordable units a year, a modest response to the affordable housing crisis in our city. The Council should commit a minimum of $100 million to the HPTF every year into the foreseeable future.

We urge you to expand the funding for the Local Rent Supplement Program (LRSP). Government policy has promoted the influx of wealthier residents to our city, fueling gentrification and displacement. If the Council is serious about protecting the diversity and stability of our communities, it must increase funding for rent supplements.

We also urge you to beef up staff at the Office of the Tenant Advocate, which serves approximately 300,000 renters in DC. The Council has passed good laws to protect tenants, but they are meaningless if not enforced.

We are pleased that the Mayor has proposed extending the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) for the next fiscal year. The 6,000 families who desperately need these funds should not be penalized for the flaws in the program’s management. Until those flaws are fixed, these families should be guaranteed the benefits.

The budget engagement meetings made clear that the public places a high priority on the vital programs listed above. The Council loses credibility if it fails to fund these services claiming a lack of resources, while offering tens of millions of dollars in tax subsidies to wealthy corporations, and piling up billions of dollars in reserves. Neither can we believe we lack resources when the wealthiest residents pay a smaller share of their income in taxes than low- and moderate-income families, and polls show they are willing to pay their fair share. If the Council fails to fund these desperately needed services, the public will lose faith that the Council is committed to solve our most pressing problems. The District of Columbia is a city of immense wealth; let us use it for a purpose we can be proud of.

In closing, the budget must reflect the values of the people of the District of Columbia. We will pay close attention to the budget debate and your vote in the expectation that the FY16 budget will provide the resources necessary to make the District of Columbia a more just and equal community.

Click here to sign the letter.

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