D.C. taxi fare hike starts Saturday

D.C. taxi fare hike starts Saturday

By Rachel S. Karas, Washington Post, Published: April 20

Whether taking a cab to the Hill or past the Beltway, residents and visitors alike may be surprised to find that their wallets are a little lighter.

Beginning Saturday, the taxi mileage rate will increase to $2.16 per mile from $1.50. Taxis will still charge a base fare of $3.

Some cabdrivers said they are concerned that the new D.C. Taxicab Commission regulations will affect not their profits but their passengers. John, a driver who asked to remain anonymous to protect his job, said the fare increase takes away the incentive for picking up large groups of passengers or those with suit­cases.

Under the new regulations, a $1-per-passenger fee may be charged for the second, third and fourth members of a group riding in a van. The maximum additional passenger fee is $3 per trip, which John said would leave groups of five or six customers on the curb.

“They have this idea of making D.C. taxis like New York taxis,” John said. “There’s no comparison.”

Taxis will now charge 50 cents per piece of luggage that the driver places in the trunk. Brief­cases, purses, bags of groceries and other items of similar size are not considered luggage, according to the commission.

Some drivers see fare increases as a reality of urban transportation.

“I think it’s good,” cabdriver Paul Bankett said. “Things are going to change anyway with progress.. . . People just have to learn to deal with things like this.”

One resident who identified herself only as Margie suggested that the commission needed to do a better job of explaining the price changes to the public to help avoid sticker shock.

Although several people said the change might be good for driving people toward the use of public transportation, former D.C. resident Sarah Connolly said public transportation is not always a viable option on weekends, when track work and crowds make the Metro more difficult to use.

Connolly, who visits on weekends, said the increase probably would not affect her travel in the city.

“I usually just take [cabs] pretty short distances,” she said. “It might not make a difference.”

Commission members have brought up using the fare increase to improve cab services, such as installing mandatory credit-card-payment systems. While some people said being able to use credit cards would make cabs more convenient, others said the funds shouldn’t come from passengers’ pockets.

“The credit card companies should pay for it since they’re the ones making the business,” said Ash Kamath, who was in Washington on business. “It shouldn’t be the taxicabs or the government; that’s subsidizing.”

Kamath said he uses D.C. taxis at least three or four times a week but will be less inclined to hail them at the increased rate. Instead, he said, he would “absolutely” turn to public transportation if not pressed for time.

Not all cabs will be charging the higher fares at once, commission Chairman Ron Linton said. Taxi companies that applied for recertification by the city’s deadline received committee-approved security seals and can be preprogrammed so the new fares take effect Saturday, he said.

Drivers whose cabs were not recertified on time did not receive seals early and will have to go to one of eight authorized shops for recalibration after the fare increase takes effect.

Taxis will not be ticketed for failing to recalibrate until after May 31, Linton said. Until then, taxis that have not been recertified may run their meter at $1.50 per mile.

Most drivers are waiting to see whether the increase in price per mile makes up for losing other fees, such as the $1.50 charge for dismissing a cab hailed by phone, the $2 “personal service” of a cabdriver, $2 for carrying “trunks or similar-sized large articles” and $1 for carrying small animals not enclosed in a carrier.

“They made a mistake. . . . I don’t see this as an advantage,” said John, the cabdriver. “Everyone in the region charges for extra passengers; everyone in the region charges for luggage.”

Want a giant D.C. government health care contract?

Posted at 05:54 PM ET, 04/24/2012

Want a giant D.C. government health care contract?

By Mike DeBonis, Washington Post

Thompson’s days in the health care business could be numbered. (C-SPAN)

The D.C. Department of Health Care Finance today issued a solicitation for new contractors to manage the care of the 165,000 city residents in publicly financed health programs.

This is notable for two reasons: First, the sheer amount of money at stake is enormous. Upwards of $600 million in local and federal funds will be spent via these contracts. Second, it means Jeffrey E. Thompson’s days in the health care business might officially be numbered.

Recall that Health Care Finance Director Wayne Turnage told a D.C. Council panel last week that it would be “unlikely” that Thompson’s Chartered Health Plan would hold on to its contract as long as he remains its owner.

The current managed-care contracts are set to expire in May 2013.

Thompson has been under a microscope since federal agents raided his home and offices last month, revealing his role in an ongoing probe of campaign finance in the city.

Chartered’s CEO has told the city he’s seeking to purchase the company from Thompson, and now the clock starts ticking on consummating a deal.

If Thompson can’t unload the company before the solicitation expires — a complicated process that includes approval from insurance regulators — Chartered’s value would be questionable, considering the D.C. managed-care contract is its sole source of business. (For a more detailed overview of the considerations at stake, check out Ben Fischer’s Friday piece in the Washington Business Journal.)

The solicitation lists a deadline date of May 18 for the submission of proposals, but Turnage said Tuesday that date would likely be extended “to better manage the selection process internally.”

The question is, besides Chartered and the city’s other current contractor, UnitedHealthcare, who will respond? Turnage said last week at least three bidders, including health care firms with a “national profile,” had expressed some interest.

Gray to unveil D.C. sustainability plan

Gray to unveil D.C. sustainability plan

By Tim Craig, Washington Post, Published: April 23

The District could add 250,000 residents over the next two decades under a new vision for the city that Mayor Vincent C. Gray will unveil Tuesday, which includes vast long-term changes for how residents travel, eat and enjoy the outdoors.

In 20 years, nearly everyone would get around by foot, bicycle, new streetcar lines, bus or Metro. Homes and apartment buildings would feature compost piles and adhere to more aggressive recycling standards. Roofs would be green, and the city government would monitor fossil fuel consumption.

When residents want to eat, they wouldn’t have to walk more than a few blocks to find fresh fruits and vegetables. And if they want to catch their own food, residents would be able to wade into the Potomac and Anacostia rivers, throw out a line, and reel in a striped bass or white perch because waterways would be “swimmable and fishable.”

“We are deadly serious about this,” said Harriet Tregoning, the city’s planning director. “We have all these people who are moving to Washington. . . . We can take this opportunity and redefine our city in some important ways.”

After a six-month review that included 125 meetings and more than 700 community participants, Gray (D) has finalized what he calls a “Vision for a Sustainable D.C.” by 2032.

The plan includes short-, mid- and long-term policy goals that Gray hopes will guide his and future administrations. However, the proposal does not include funding sources for goals that could cost billions of dollars to implement, making some of them dependent on aid from an already cash-strapped federal government.

“It’s a statement of where the mayor thinks the city’s values and direction should go,” said Robert H. Nelson, a professor of environmental policy at the University of Maryland. “But whenever anything comes up that is actually going to cost money, this statement is not likely to have a huge impact in terms of the debate. . . . Anything that has a 20-year goal becomes more symbolic.”

Although some ideas seem improbable — such as being waste-free within 20 years — administration officials said the plan would help local officials conceptualize the future of the city. Some changes could begin immediately.

“They may seem far-fetched given our history as a city, but not so much if you look at what other cities around the world are doing,” said Christophe Tulou, head of the D.C. Department of the Environment. “The goal is to have D.C. be visionary in as many areas as possible and, when you add it all up, for D.C. to be the greenest, healthiest, most livable city in the U.S.”

According to the report, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, the administration is hoping to require “energy audits” of all buildings “periodically and at the point of sale” within a few years to gauge their usage. Also in the short term, online tools or forums would allow residents to calculate energy usage.

The short-term efforts to highlight energy use would set the stage for potential long-term strategies for pricing fossil-fuel reliance. The plan calls for a 50 percent reduction in emissions and energy consumption in 20 years, and envisions a 500 percent increase in green jobs.

In the area of transportation, the plan calls for 80 miles of bicycle lanes within a few years, about one-fourth more than exist today.

In another short-term goal, the city plans to reexamine its parking rules to continue to urge residents to use mass transit while ensuring an adequate supply of on-street parking. By 2032, after the city’s proposed 37-mile streetcar network is completed, officials are optimistic that 75 percent of all trips will take place on foot, bicycle or on public transportation, according to the report.

Changes in transportation would be needed because planners envision a dramatic increase in the city’s population.

Tregoning said the goal of adding 250,000 new residents is designed to build on what has “been a solid decade of population growth.” Last year, the Census Bureau found the District was the fastest-growing “state” in the nation after its population grew by 2.7­ percent in a little more than a year, boosting the city’s population to nearly 618,000.

Gray’s sustainability report envisions those growth rates continuing for another two decades, but demographers are skeptical.

“I think it’s likely to grow a bit more. Whether it’s sustainable over the next 20 years is hard to say,” said Peter Tatian, a senior research associate in the Urban Institute, adding that potential federal budget cuts and a lack of affordable housing could quickly dampen growth expectations.

Regardless, Gray’s plan envisions a far different city in the coming decades.

The plan calls for boosting the city’s tree canopy from 35 percent to about 40 percent, requiring the planting of thousands of trees. Eventually, a “three-track” trash-collection process including composting would be created to try to achieve 100 percent waste diversion.

The city’s waste-diversion rate is 23 percent, compared to San Francisco’s 70 percent, officials said.

To slash obesity rates in half by 2032, the city would place a renewed focus on enticing residents into physical activity and redouble efforts to combat lead poisoning.

Conceivably, in the long-term, city officials hope that activity could entail more recreation on the cleaned-up Potomac and Anacostia rivers.

One of the plan’s most ambitious planks calls for those rivers and Rock Creek to be “swimmable and fishable” by 2032.

Tulou said the District and Maryland are making great strides toward that goal, including stringent new stormwater run-off standards in the city and a recently launched $2.6 billion project to build two new tunnels to prevent sewage from spilling into local waterways. Last year, Baltimore officials announced an initiative to make the Inner Harbor swimmable and fishable by 2020.

“All of the pieces of the process are falling into place,” Tulou said. “It’s not an easy lift in terms of commitments and investments, but we are well underway. . . . If it hasn’t rained in a while, you can safely swim in the Anacostia and Potomac already.”

Kevin Wrege, Esq.

Founder & President

Pulse Issues & Advocacy LLC

Office: 202-625-1787

Mobile: 202-253-4929

4410 Massachusetts Ave., NW, #150

Washington, DC 20016

Why D.C. budget autonomy remains doomed

Why D.C. budget autonomy remains doomed

By Mike DeBonis, Washington Post

Mayor Vincent Gray’s dream of budget autonomy for the District remains mired in abortion politics. (Ricky Carioti – WASHINGTON POST) There’s a lot of optimism right now that the District could score a big Capitol Hill win, with support building for changes that would allow the District to spend its money without active congressional approval.

An earlier attempt at budget autonomy legislation was derailed when it got caught up in the abortion issue, with House Republicans adding language that would permanently ban the public funding of abortions for low-income women in the city. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and other city leaders rejected the compromise.

Now Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the powerful chairman of the House Oversight Committee, is saying he wants to move the abortion question separately, and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) has committed to introducing a Senate version of the bill. That led Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) to give a half-hour floor speech Thursday heralding an impending new day in District self-governance.

But city leaders shouldn’t get their hopes too far up, because antiabortion forces are not going to be giving the city a pass.

A top official for the National Right to Life Committee, the best-organized antiabortion lobby on the Hill, said the group’s position is that abortion and the District budget are inextricably linked. Thus it opposes any budget autonomy bill that doesn’t include a ban on publicly funded abortions.

Douglas Johnson, the committee’s legislative director, said in an interview Thursday that his group is prepared to “score” any House floor vote on a budget autonomy bill that does not include strong abortion language — “at a minimum, a permanent prohibition on taxpayer-funded abortions in the federal district,” he said.

That means, unless Gray & Co. brook the compromise they previously rejected, they’ll have to get at least a couple dozen of the 235 current members currently boasting perfect antiabortion scores to sacrifice their perfection.

That is, to risk a profound understatement, rather unlikely.

And even if strong abortion language were added to the bill, Johnson said, “we would not say we support the bill, we would not oppose the bill.”

Long story short, unless local officials do a 180 on the abortion compromise, the dream of budget autonomy will have to wait for another Congress.

By Mike DeBonis | 03:20 PM ET, 04/20/2012

Missed rent payments add to Michael Brown’s financial woes

Posted at 05:09 PM ET, 04/19/2012

Missed rent payments add to Michael Brown’s financial woes

By Tim Craig, Washington Post

D.C. Council member Michael A. Brown’s failure to pay his District taxes and mortgage on time in recent years was always likely to become an issue in his bid for reelection this year.

Now, fresh records show he also may have had trouble paying his rent on time.

As The Washington Post reported in January 2011, Brown and his wife failed to make timely property tax payments on their $1.4 million Chevy Chase home, eventually accruing a past due balance of $14,263. Brown quickly paid off the debt once the story was published, but it helped highlight the council member’s ongoing financial challenges.

Brown makes $125,000 a year as a council member and takes home another $240,000 annually as an attorney, according to Brown’s most recent financial disclosure form.

But banks or mortgage lenders issued five notices of foreclosure sale from when he bought the house in 1996 through late 2010, according to records. None of the notices proceeded to auction.

More recently, records indicate that Brown has missed rent payments on two apartments that have been under his name at the Rittenhouse Apartments on 16th Street NW over the past two years.

On March 17, 2011, Rittenhouse LLC filed a complaint in D.C. Superior Court alleging that Brown had “failed to pay” $4,031 in rent. At the time, according to court documents, Brown’s rent was $1,709 a month.

Brown was summoned to an April 13, 2011, court hearing, but he failed to show up, records show. The case was dismissed four months later.

In an interview, Brown said he “didn’t know anything about” the March filing. He noted the dates on the court documents “didn’t make any sense” because they stated the total rent due was for “February 2011 to March 2010.”

“That was a mistake,” Brown said. “I don’t know anything about that…I know nothing about that.”

But Rittenhouse LLC filed another complaint against Brown on Jan. 13, after he moved into another unit in the building. Rittenhouse alleged Brown missed one month’s rent, $2,160, according to court records.

The company withdrew the complaint in early February. Complaints are usually withdrawn after the defendant settles the debt or agrees to a repayment plan.

Brown acknowledged the existence of the January filing and said he has fully paid that month’s rent.

“I was two or three days late,” Brown said. “I was a couple days late, and the management company chose to take this action, which they have every right to do. Rather than notifying me I was a couple days late, they chose to file, which is fine, but I paid well before anything happened.”

Rittenhouse’s assistant property manager declined to comment. Mark R. Raddatz, the attorney who represented Rittenhouse Apartments LLC, also declined to comment.

In the November general election, Brown is seeking his second term as one of four at-large council members. He will be competing against Council member Vincent B. Orange (D-At large), Republican Mary Brooks Beatty, Independent David Grosso and State Hood Green Party candidate Ann C. Wilcox.

Voters can select up two candidates, and the top two vote-getters will win at-large seats. With registered Democrats accounting for three out of every four registered D.C. voters, Orange is heavily favored to win the most votes.

Brown is also favored to win reelection. But Beatty, a former Ward 6 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, and Grosso, an attorney and activist from Ward 5, could mount a stiff challenge by hammering Brown over ethics and his status as an incumbent.

In April 2011, the Internal Revenue Service filed a $50,000 lien against Brown for failure to pay income taxes dating to 2004. According to a copy of the lien, Brown failed to pay $7,128 in 2004, $28,625 in 2005, $5,176 in 2007 and $11,951 in 2008.

Brown is on a repayment plan.

Christie the Prophet

Christie the Prophet

by Michael D. Tanner

This article appeared in National Review (Online) on April 18, 2012.

New Jersey governor Chris Christie recently warned that America is in danger of becoming a country of “people sitting on the couch waiting for their next government check.” Predictably, the Left was outraged, but Governor Christie wasn’t far off the mark.

During the 2011 debate over raising the debt ceiling, President Obama reminded Americans that the federal government sends out 70 million checks every month. That is probably an underestimate. According to the Washington Post, the president’s number included Social Security, veterans’ benefits, and spending on non-defense contractors and vendors, but not reimbursements to Medicare providers and vendors or electronic transfers to the 21 million households receiving food stamps. (Nor did he include most spending by the Defense Department, which has a payroll of 6.4 million active and retired employees and, on average, cuts checks for nearly 1 million invoices and 660,000 travel-expense claims per month.) The actual number might be closer to 200 million checks every month.

Of course it would be unfair to lump everyone who receives a check from the government in with the people Governor Christie was talking about (though it does say something about the size of government) but, nonetheless, we are becoming a society that relies on government to care for us.

[T]oday, every problem in society prompts calls for government action, response, or funding.

In 1965, just 22 percent of all federal spending was transfer payments. Today it has doubled to 44 percent. That means that nearly half of all federal spending is simply government taking money from one person and giving it to another.

Or look at it another way: In 1965, transfer payments from the federal government made up less than 10 percent of wages and salaries. As recently as 2000, that percentage was just 21 percent. Today, transfer payments are more than a third of salary and wages. Worse, if one includes salaries from government employment, more than half of Americans receive a substantial portion of their income from the government.

Conservatives often criticize transfer payments to the poor, and for good reason. At the federal and state levels combined, we spend nearly $1 trillion per year on anti-poverty or means-tested programs that do more to promote a permanent underclass than to eliminate poverty. But the modern welfare state is much more than programs for the poor. It includes middle-class welfare, such as Social Security and Medicare, which are the real drivers of our future national insolvency. We think of Medicaid as health care for the poor, but as much as two-thirds of Medicaid spending goes to pay for long-term care such as nursing homes for the elderly, much of it for middle-class people sheltering assets. And the modern welfare state also includes corporate welfare, the military-industrial complex, and others living off the taxpayer’s dime. The Export-Import Bank is as much welfare as TANF.

This is the road we are now on. The welfare state started with small programs targeted toward a small number of genuinely needy people. But as politicians figured out the electoral benefits of expanding programs and people realized they could let others work on their behalf, those programs grew until the point at which, today, every problem in society prompts calls for government action, response, or funding.

At the same time, as Governor Christie also noted, this implicitly tells people, “stop dreaming, stop striving.” We demonize those who do succeed, damning them as part of the evil “1 percent.”

This is the real danger of the welfare state. It’s not that it will bankrupt us — though it will. It is that it slowly and insidiously destroys our national character, saps our will to be great, and makes us content with the way things are rather than how they could be. We have seen where this road ends. As Governor Christie warns, it “will not just bankrupt us financially, it will bankrupt us morally.”

Biblical exegesis tells us that the Israelites needed to wander for 40 years in the desert after being released from bondage in Egypt because they couldn’t begin to build a new nation until a new generation grew up that hadn’t been raised in bondage. Those raised in slavery were not trained to think for themselves; they had become dependent on their masters to provide for them. Indeed, when they encountered hardships, many cried for a return to bondage.

Just look to Europe today. The welfare states of Europe are imploding, collapsing under the weight of promises that can no longer be met. Their citizens riot in the streets at the prospect that their government benefits might be reduced.

If anyone wants to know what this next election is really about, Governor Christie just told us.

Michael Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and author of Leviathan on the Right: How Big-Government Conservatism Brought Down the Republican Revolution.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray Swears in New Financial Literacy Council

April 4, 2012
Mayor Vincent C. Gray Swears in New Financial Literacy Council

DC Mayor Vincent C. Gray stands with the District’s newly appointed Financial Literacy Council. (L-R) Kevin Wrege,
Malik Muhammad, Jamila Yore, Mayor Gray, Idriys Abdullah, Joseph Vaughan, Tamara Haye Daufour who serves
as chair and Yasuko Fumuro. Missing from the photo are Brian Pick and Angela Joyner.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray today presented and swore in nine new members of the District’s Financial Literacy Council, which will be chaired by veteran financial-services advocate Tamara Haye Daufour and will help improve programs that educate District residents in how to manage their personal finances more effectively.

“Basic financial literacy is the essential prerequisite, along with working hard, to succeeding in our society. Unfortunately, though, some of our most disadvantaged residents never learn how to benefit in the long term from their hard work and maintain the wealth they earn – thus contributing to the perpetuation of poverty,” Mayor Gray said. “Working together, this council will guide programs that help residents learn how to manage their finances effectively and how to recover from hardships like bankruptcy and foreclosures.”

The Mayor named six members of the Council, including its chair. The remaining three members were designated by DC Council Chair Kwame R. Brown; Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette M. Alexander, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Public Services and Consumer Affairs; and District Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi.

“In a world where interconnectivity is a daily experience, financial literacy is ever-more important,” Gandhi said. “People need to know immediately how much money they have, how much they are spending and how to use their money wisely. Without the proper training and education, they are at risk to lose everything without even knowing it is happening.”

Mayor Gray’s Appointees

· Tamara Haye Daufour will serve as the council’s chairperson. She has 13 years of experience working in the financial industry, including prior service at the DC Office of Contracting and Procurement and the DC Department of Small and Local Business Development (DSLBD). Since 2002, she has provided pro bono financial services to the public. Ms. Daufour lives in Ward 7.

· Brian Pick is the Deputy Chief Academic Officer for Curriculum and Instruction for the DC Public Schools. He is a Ward 1 resident.

· Idriys J. Abdullah is a Consumer Protection Advocate for the DC Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking (DISB). He lives in Ward 4.

· Joseph Vaughan is Vice President for Government Affairs & Political Director at the Securities Industry & Financial Markets Association. He is a Ward 4 resident.

· Yasuko Fumuro is Vice President for Public Relations at the Microfinance International Corporation. She is a Ward 2 resident.

· Kevin Wrege is President and Founder of Pulse Issues & Advocacy, LLC, a District-based advocacy, research and policy firm with an emphasis on the business and insurance industry. He lives in Ward 3.

Council Chairman Brown’s Designee

· Angela Joyner is the DC Council’s Deputy Budget Director for Public Education, Economic Development, and Regulation. She is a Ward 5 resident.

“Mayor Gray is to be commended for his leadership in appointing the new members of the Financial Literacy Council,” said Chairman Brown. “They will play an important role in helping District residents become even more knowledgeable on how to make informed financial decisions and learn about wealth building. Angela Joyner, a Ward 5 resident, is an accomplished financial and budgetary professional who will represent the Council with great distinction.”

Councilmember Alexander’s Designee

· Jamila Yore is a student and community leader and former Vice President of the National Association of Black Accountants. She is pursuing a Master’s of Business Administration degree at Howard University and lives in Ward 7.

“I believe Jamila will be a great asset to the Financial Literacy Council because she brings an ample amount of experience in the finance industry,” Councilmember Alexander said. “She has been successful in each position she has held and will be able to give valuable service while holding a position on the council.”

Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi’s Designee

· Malik Muhammad is Financial Manager of the Debt Management Unit for the Office of the Chief Financial Officer. He is a Ward 1 resident.