Tax Cuts Beat Out Streetcars in Budget Vote
A plan to cut taxes from D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson prevailed over Vince Gray's attempt to preserve streetcar money in a Council budget vote today.
Mendelson found the money for $165 million worth of business, personal, and income tax cuts in the streetcar budget. The budget passed with Mendelson's change, 11-2. Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells and Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry were the dissenting votes.
Just what the cuts mean for the future of streetcars in the city is up for debate. Wells voted against the budget on the grounds that the cuts were too drastic, while Ward 3 Councilmember and transportation committee chairwoman Mary Cheh said that the cuts weren't a sign of reduced support for the streetcars. Cheh conceded, though, that the District Department of Transportation had "deeply mismanaged" the construction of the often-delayed H Street streetcar line.
Mayoral spokesman Pedro Ribeiro wasn't as optimistic. In an email to LL, Ribeiro said that the cuts "kills the streetcar system as we know it."
"And today's decision cannot be undone in the coming years, as some Council Members have suggested, because the money will have already been spent on tax cuts for the wealthy," Ribeiro writes.
In other Council budget news:
Bowser and Catania Debate, Sort Of
With mayoral hopeful Muriel Bowser avoiding any sort of formal debate with At-Large Councilmember and mayoral rival David Catania, today's budget meeting is likely the closest that the District will come to seeing them face off for months. The would-be mayors got into it this afternoon over education funding, with Catania calling Bowser's plans for $7 million for a stand-alone Ward 4 middle school a potential "bridge to nowhere."
Bowser followed up with her own questions for Catania later on in the session, questioning how schools could apply for grants. But the mayoral candidates couldn't get too heated with one another—thanks to Council decorum rules, they had to pose all of their questions to Mendelson instead.
Catania and Bowser weren't the only feuding pair on the dais today. Barry, decked out in a jogging suit, arrived late to the budget meeting after a physical therapy appointment. But he wasn't too tired to tangle with Mendelson, whom Barry holds responsible for not directing enough money to his ward—and for not letting him talk enough.
In one of several spats with Mendelson, Barry said that he had urged Mendelson last night in a 45-minute phone conversation to restore "peace" to the chamber. When Mendelson tried to cut Barry off after he ran out of time or pursued a similar vendetta against Cheh over funding pools in Ward 3 instead of his own ward, Barry responded that Mendelson was a "goddamned tyrant."
And Barry knows from tyrannical Council chairmen. Barry listed the Council chairmen he's known—all of them, given the District's short home rule history—and said that Mendelson was the most autocratic. Among Mendelson's misdeeds, according to Barry: threatening councilmembers with losing their committee assignments if they didn't back his budget.
“That is pay to play at its best," Barry said. "You have to pay the chairman if you’re going to play with him."
Photo by Aaron Wiener