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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT—"Defense Hounds Cops for Questioning Robert Wone's Sexuality," "Wone Investigators Found No Fingerprints On Fence"
Howdy. Today, the D.C. Council votes on the budget. Expect a lot of activity down at the Wilson Building. And a lot of political gamesmanship. WaPo's Tim Craig offers a solid think piece on the negotiations between Mayor Adrian Fenty and the D.C. Council. It certainly does not look good for the Fair Budget Coalition and the Save Our Safety Net folks who pressed for tax increases on the city's elite as a way of preventing millions in cuts to social services. Craig writes that the council and the mayor do not seem willing to make the really hard choices during an election year. "When the D.C. Council votes on the budget Wednesday, it will make some major changes to the city's 2011 spending plan, including a sales tax on carbonated sugar sodas and on medical marijuana. But members have tabled many proposals for fear that they — not the mayor — would be tagged as having increased taxes or made crippling cuts to social service programs. With Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray challenging Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's reelection bid this year, neither wants to be perceived as the bad guy, causing some to fear that District finances could collapse next year when the shadow of politics lifts from the city budget." Key quote: "'We are saying it's too onerous to do this year,' council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), the chairman of the Committee on Finance and Revenue, said recently about his colleagues' hesitance to discuss major spending reductions or tax increases. 'However, next year, at the same time, at this exact place, we are going to have to do it. . . . There is no savings account left.'" Meanwhile, WUSA9 looks at the possibility of a commuter tax. More coverage via WTOP, WJLA.
SODA TAX IS BACK: Late yesterday evening, WaPo's Tim Craig (again!) reports in the D.C. Wire that Council Chair Vincent Gray has revived the soda tax in a last-minute effort to shore up the budget. Craig writes: "Gray has included another form of beverage tax in his recommended fiscal year 2011 budget, the Washington Post has learned. The revised proposal, which comes despite fierce opposition from the beverage industry, would extend the city's 6 percent sales tax to sodas and other 'non-alcoholic beverages with natural or artificial sweeteners.' Such beverages currently are excluded from the sales tax because they are considered grocery items. The proposal, which will be voted on by the council Wednesday, would generate about $8 million in revenue. About $6.5 million would be used to fund Cheh's Healthy Schools initiative, which requires city schools serve more fresh fruits and vegetables to students. The remainder of the revenue would go into the general fund." The Blimpies Lobby totally failed on this one!
AFTER THE JUMP—housing and homeless services still taking hits, the death of the $3 per-hour parking meter, Save our Safety Net disrupts D.C. Council breakfast, Congress proposes aid to Metro, and much, much more!
SAFETY NET CUTS: The D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute reports that after all the protests and lobbying from nonprofit groups, the D.C. Council has not restored funding to several programs. It looks like housing assistance and homeless services are still taking big hits in this budget. [But let's make sure to keep on funding $400,000 dog parks]. Here is a breakdown provided by DCFPI:
"Rapid Housing: $1.1 million cut, eliminating the program
This program keeps kids with their parents when the risk of homelessness threatens to force children into the foster care system. It also supports children aging out of foster care who have nowhere to go. Every dollar invested in it saves four dollars in foster care costs that year. Eliminating this program, which helps 150 families per year, will push children into the foster care system.
Grandparent Caregiver: $2 million cut
This program keeps children out of foster care by giving grandparents financial support to take care of grandchildren. This $2 million cut means 250 grandparents will lose assistance. Also, assistance to grandparents could be cut as much as $380 per month. More children will be forced to enter the foster care system.
Emergency Rental Assistance: $1.3 million cut
This program helps low-income families stay in their homes and out of shelters by providing one-time assistance to pay overdue rent or a security deposit or first month’s rent.. The $1.3 million cut will put another 650 families at risk of homelessness.
Interim Disability Assistance: $6 million cut
IDA provides temporary cash assistance to poor adults with disabilities while they wait for months or even years for their application for federal Supplemental Security Income to be processed. For most recipients it is the only source of financial support they receive besides food stamps during that time. The Council has restored only $1 million to the IDA program, leaving a $6 million cut. Every $1 million restored would provide benefits for 300 low-income adults with disabilities.
Homeless Services: $4 million cut
Family homelessness increased 37 percent in two years. Last winter, 200 families were crammed into space suitable for only 135. This month, the Department of Human Services has turned away homeless families with children who have absolutely no other place to go. Yet the budget for homeless services was cut $4 million in 2010 and kept at that level for 2011.
Local Rent Supplement Program: $1 million cut
This program provides housing vouchers for very low income families. Many families that benefit from this program were homeless prior to participating in it. $2 million was cut from LSRP last year. The Council has restored $1 million. Restoring the remaining $1 million would help 75 families get safe and affordable housing."
BREAKFAST SLAM: This morning, Save Our Safety Net surprised the D.C. Council's morning breakfast meeting with a protest, D.C. Wire reports, in what amounts to a last-minute appeal to restore cuts to the District budget. It appears Councilmember Michael Brown has at least temporarily given up on his tax-increase proposal. WaPo's Tim Craig writes: "'D.C. deserves better than this,'" one woman began shouting. 'We want to know who is going to stand up today for a strong safety net.' The advocates are lobbying in support of a proposal by council member Michael Brown (I-At large) to increase taxes on the wealthy to spare some cuts to social service programs. Brown's proposal would impose income tax rates of 8.9 or 9.4 percent for top wage earners. But Brown said today he will not push for his proposal at today's meeting because he is comfortable that the council is already restoring funding for key social service programs. 'We are going to have to revisit this later this year, definitely next year,' Brown told the Washington Post's Mike DeBonis. 'I got [the cuts] restored in another way.' The crowd, which forced many members to flee their breakfast meeting while they awaited for the security guards to restore order, spent about 10 minutes shouting various chants. 'Can you guys leave so we can have our' meeting, Council member Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) said one point."
$3 PARKING METERS: The Examiner's Alan Suderman has more on the budget negotiations. He reports that Gray has ruled out Fenty's proposed $3 per-hour rate on some parking meters: "What's not expected to change is the council's rejection of Mayor Adrian Fenty's proposal to raise parking meter rates, including charging $3 an hour — or 25 cents for five minutes — for so called 'premium demand' spots in downtown and Georgetown. Fenty proposed them as part of a way to bridge a more than $500 million budget gap. But the proposed meter rate increases created an uproar from restaurant owners and Fenty quickly said the $3-an-hour rates were negotiable. John Townsend, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said the rejection of the fees was a 'victory' for city residents. 'You cannot nickel and dime people to death with fees,' Townsend said. 'I think the council got the message.'"
METRO FARE HIKE NEWS: The Examiner's Kytja Weir reports that eight Democratic senators have introduced a $2 billion bill aimed at aiding transit agencies: "The Public Transportation Preservation Act of 2010 would help transit agencies nationwide help close funding gaps that have occurred amid the broader economic crisis. The bill arrived just two days before Metro's board of directors is slated to vote on a fare increase that would raise bus, rail and MetroAccess fares significantly, with the longest train rides potentially topping $5 per one-way trip. The transit agency is considering the increases as it stares down a record $189.2 million gap in its proposed $1.4 billion operating budget. 'We have a major budget problem, and anything we can do to solve that without taking money from somewhere else would make us happy,' Metro Board Chairman Peter Benjamin said when told of the bill. But he said he had questions about it, including the funding formula that dictates how much Metro could get, what strings would be attached and when it would arrive....Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd, D-Conn., plus seven other senators, including Robert Menendez, D-N.J., Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., introduced the bill. It calls for transit agencies to use the money to reduce fare increases and restore services that were cut after January 2009 — or to prevent future service cuts or fare increases through September 2011. Under those parameters, Metro could apply any money to backfill the current budget or the pending one."
CHILDREN'S RIGHTS: WaPo's Lena Sun profiles the work between the Children's Law Center and local doctors: "As part of a medical-legal partnership that began in 2002, lawyers work alongside doctors at four District clinics run by the hospital. Their shared goal is to overcome legal and social challenges that threaten the care of their patients — low-income children, predominantly African American, and virtually all covered by Medicaid."
TOURISM NEWS: WBJ's Michael Neibauer reports that DCRA is making it easier for tour guides to get city licenses: "Under existing law, tour guides must also not be epileptics. They must not be new Washington-area residents, or hard of hearing, or a drunkard or 'subject to vertigo.' But that will soon change, as the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs has proposed easing the conditions for becoming a licensed tour guide. All applicants will still have to pass a test 'covering the applicant’s knowledge of buildings and points of historical and general interest in the District.' But under the new rules, gone is the mandate that a licensed sightseeing guide be a U.S. citizen who has lived in the Washington area for at least two years. Gone is the demand that an applicant 'read, write and speak English;' it is replaced with 'proficient in the English language.' No longer must an aspiring guide maintain a 'sound physique' with at least 20/40 eyesight and hearing in both ears, not live with epilepsy, vertigo or heart trouble, and be free from any contagious or infectious disease. And a 'drunkard,' according to the amended rules, is free to apply."
UNION'S FADING INFLUENCE: Examiner Columnist Jonetta Rose Barras thinks union endorsements are way overrated (see: Linda Cropp).
LOCAL MYSTERY: WaPo's J. Freedom du Lac tries to figure out what happened to Hattie McDaniel's Oscar. It had been given to Howard University's theater department and then vanished: "When she died of breast cancer in 1952, McDaniel bequeathed her Oscar to Howard's drama department, which had honored the pioneering actress with a luncheon after her win. (McDaniel had no academic affiliation with the school.) Howard archivists say there's no official record that the university ever received the award, which was a plaque, not one of the iconic Oscar statuettes. (Supporting actor and actress winners didn't get statuettes until 1943.) But former students vividly recall seeing it in the school's fine-arts building, Childers Hall. Charles "Buddy" Butler, a theater major who graduated from Howard in 1968, says he saw the plaque displayed in a glass-enclosed case in the Childers greenroom. The university's drama chairman at the time, Owen Dodson, 'was so proud of having it at Howard,' says Butler, who now teaches theater at San Jose State University in California. 'Dodson talked about it as something we, as African American students, could aspire to.' Sometime after Butler graduated, though, McDaniel's award vanished. Gone, as it were, with the wind. Was it taken by student protesters to repudiate the subservience of McDaniel's Mammy? The Wikipedia entry on McDaniel states as fact that her Oscar "disappeared during racial unrest [at Howard] in the late 1960s." (One version of that popular theory has students tossing the award into the Potomac.) Other theories abound: Maybe the plaque was moved for safekeeping during a period of black-power protest and never made it back to its display case. A professor might have walked away with it. Perhaps it was stolen, then sold to a collector. Any of this could have happened in 1968. Or was it 1973?"
ROBERT WONE: The latest from the trial in D.C. Superior Court.
ICE CREAM NEWS: The downtown Gifford's recently got shut down by the city's health department. DCist reports that the shop hopes to open soon.
MAYOR'S SCHEDULE: No public events are scheduled.
D.C. COUNCIL SCHEDULE: You know what they're doing.