Loose Lips

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

  • Mark

    Build a streetcar and then cut the funding for it. Brilliant.

  • Sally

    Streetcars are a waste of money and now to hear Ddot have mismanaged the money outrageous. Why would you put any more money into this program? Cheh does not know how to manage her dept. or have the time for it. But Mendelson bullying council members to get what he wants is also poor management.

  • Bad Bad Bad

    I do not see how the streetcars will improve anything outside of fixing the Benning Rd streets.

    The city should've used the money to get better school buses and metro buses to transport students to school along with having more buses run on routes where people have the most trouble transportation wise.

  • IDK

    I agree, there are so many neighborhoods underserved by transit in the city a more comprehensive bus system and rider subsidies would have made more sense.

  • Corky

    The streetcar plan was a boondoggle from the beginning, and everyone who was on the Council for the past 6-7 years is as much to blame for it as DDOT. You voted for it!! The Council caved in to Fenty and Tangerlini's ridiculous, ill considered idea and spent millions of tax payer dollars on a trolley plan that served very few, would obviously obstruct traffic on H street, was implemented without consulting the neighborhoods along Benning Road (because they weren't of the favored bike riding, gentrifying class) and didn't even have the blessing of the federal government. You do remember them, don't you? The finger wagging by Cheh and others is absolutely nauseating, given their previous cheerleading for this project.

  • Ward-8

    Good move by our over paid City Councilman, The only good thing about these street Cars to no where are the cosmetic changes to the limited neighborhood it will serve. With bus and rail services currently covering the majority of the city. The Street Car is a money pit in the making.

  • whoa_now

    Wow, so shortsighted by everyone. The streetcar is a terrible waste of money NOW - with this decision. It wasn't before - this portion was only a pillar of the system. It's like building the beginnings of a bridge and then saying - that's good enough....it's a total waste unless you finish it. Everyone posting that they should expand the bus route - well you are arguing against something that will help the bus routes expand. This system (along with the bus system) was to help DC residents get around the city much the way the metro system is for commuters. It was a terrible mistake to cut the funding for rich/companies. fools.

  • AB

    It's not like the city can just buy new buses either, buses need a garage and efforts to build new ones have been blocked by many CM's including Ms. Bowser. Can't have it both way people.

  • NoStreetcarYea!

    It is nearly impossible to criticize this tax cut, although I know the streetcar “build it at any cost” fans over at GGW will disagree, but they've fallen so far off the deep end it doesn't matter.

    And the only thing this does to the streetcar program is cut it from a disastrously mismanaged bloated program, to a disastrously mismanaged, slightly less bloated program.

    I mean really…who can argue with the creation of a lower tax bracket so that folks who make 40K a year aren’t paying the same tax rate as those making 5 times that?

    New standard deductions that everyone benefits from that only brings us in line with federal levels.

    A reduction of the business franchise tax, the most expensive in the region and second most expensive on the east Coast, and brings down to MD’s level (still 30% higher than VA’s.)

    Bringing the estate tax in line with the federal level.

    I mean really, you can complain about the “rich” getting a small piece of the cuts, but the “non-rich” get the overwhelming bulk of this, and the only thing we had to do is cut some of the over-to-the-top bloat from one poor transportation program (that still leaves it wallowing in fat).

  • Arlnow

    Man, the local streetcar people must be foaming at the mouth. Arlington Board under serious fire for their proposed, now twice priced system, and now DC, bastion of irresponsible spending cutting huge chunks of money from theirs. Bad month for trolly folk!

  • PatienceChild

    A. This still allows sufficient funding to move things ahead.
    B. Once the H Street line is running, there will be more momentum
    C. When there is a new mayor the mismanagement issue will be revisited
    D. Arlington will get FTA funds. The project will move forward.

  • Tight Lips

    Streetcars = Waste of time

    If streetcars are suppose to help the disadvantaged, why not add them streetcars are huge busy avenues like Georgia, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, North & South Capital Streets as well. Then move all those buses into the other parts of the city where transportation is an issue.

    Gentrification at its finest, they made upgrades because NEW PEOPLE are coming to town, not upgrades to satisfy the needs of those who have been here for quite sometime.

    Point blank, the streetcars help sale new residents moving East of the River. It lets them know that what you SEE is not what your INVESTING IN. As long as DC can show forward progression, they can bring new people here and increase the cost of living to get the locals and those in the "projects" to move on..

  • 9th Street Neighbor

    BRING ON THE NEW STREET CAR LINES! The hot air in the comments above seem to be an orchestrated campaign from some car lovers (or car lover organization) against a good plan gone bad with very poor management from some poor/sub-par Gray Administration and several of its appointees, as well as their contractors. There are many studies supporting a good street car system as a solid investment option for city transportation. I for one will be very disappointed if, when the dust settles, and the cuts materialize, that the momentum for the new street car lines dies slowly. BRING ON THE NEW STREET CAR LINES ... E.G. UP GEORGIA AVENUE, TO SILVER SPRING, DOWNTOWN AND INTO SW, LEADING ON TO NATIONAL HARBOR.