EDITORIALS FOR 2001-2002
Editorials for 2001 and 2002 are filed here, most recent date first.
QUICK SUMMARY OF 2002 EDITORIALS
------------ STRUCTURAL IMBALANCE or INSTITUTIONAL BIAS?
Under the respected imprimatur of the Brookings Institution, renowned in many policy areas, Dr. Alice Rivlin, former Control Board Chair, and her close colleague Carol O'Cleireacain have produced another version of their favorite theme: that DC should receive a permanent, 100% bullet-proof, incentive-less annual federal payment to make up for the inconveniences and fiscal strain caused by the presence of the nation's capitol. Titled "A Sound Fiscal Footing for the Nation's Capital: A Federal Responsibility", it depends on untested, third-party statistics to support the authors' long-standing assertions that an attractive, decent DC cannot be expected to pay its own bills, despite four straight years of budget surpluses.
NARPAC, on the other hand, is a small, single-purpose non-profit educational/analytical group devoted solely to improving national pride in America's capital and making it the best American core city in the best American metro area. We do not believe DC need become a Federal ward, nor that this report accurately represents the facts or the practical options for DC's future. Here are ten key (abbreviated!) Brookings (B) assertions and NARPAC (N) rejoinders from the many included in NARPAC's detailed web site critique of this work:
(B) DC's balance between revenues and expenditures is "precarious" for the foreseeable
(B) DC spends 40% ($240M) of its police/FEMS budget on federal facilities, tourists, and
(B) Foregone taxes on federal-related property, income, and sales may cost the city $750M
(B) DC misses as much as $1.2 billion in commuter income taxes who use DC's roads, street
(B) "Statelessness" prevents favorable transfer payments; but DC's remaining state functions cost
(B) DC suffers from legacy of infrastructure neglect, decades of lost revenues from declining
(B) DC cannot afford to raise revenues by raising taxes, and shouldn't halt business tax
(B) DC cannot control its spending: virtually none is "discretionary", but does need to improve
(B) DC cannot count on improving bureaucratic efficiency since no one knows how much DC
(B) Five rationales are offered for permanent, reliable, incentive-free payments of up to $660M
NARPAC believes the only reason for a yearly federal payment is as token penance for Congressional failure to fulfill its responsibilities to level metro area playing fields for DC and other inner cities.
GETTING THE PLAYERS READY FOR ACT II This Is
Not the Time for Re-Runs
Act I has initiated many fundamental changes that assure the city's future quality of life will be much brighter than its past. But it also introduced a number of secondary characters and side shows that should no be repeated. Hosting the capitol of the world's foremost nation adds serious responsibilities not shared by other US cities, but not yet addressed. Important silent constituencies remain to be satisfied far beyond DC's local neighborhoods, frenetic activists, and racial demagogues.
Three basic themes await development. DC's ratings may rise to somewhere between 'mediocre' and 'good' without them, but cannot reach the 'outstanding' Americans want from their capital.
DC Must Accept the Role of a Prime American City: the prevalent attitude that DC should be just a conglomeration of contented, quaint, interconnected communities must change. Ignoring the larger obligations to both the federal government and all Americans across the country while pandering to the endless demands of local supplicants must stop. The federal government must be seen as a partner, not a free-loading scourge. Commuters, visitors, non- profits, embassies, and tourists must be welcomed, not resented. And business and commerce must be accepted as defining the city's financial and structural character at least as much as its often parochial 'middle class' residents. This nation's capital city must be a whale of a lot more than a collection of neighborhoods.
DC Must Enhance Its Leadership Role as the Core City of a Thriving Metro Area:regional cooperation and comprehensive long-range planning are almost non-existent. There is no meaningful area-wide plan for growth, and no agreement on the special roles for inner city, inner and outer suburbs. There is no credible area transportation plan, no plan to emphasize growth around its world-class metrorail system; no plan for the productive re-use of surplus government properties; and no plans for sharing the regional burdens of poverty, health, and education. The District, by its acquiescence keeps getting smaller, poorer, sicker, and dumber than its suburbs. It must stimulate Congress to grasp the bigger picture and help level the local, regional and federal playing fields.
DC Must Alleviate Its Poverty, Not Just Accommodate It: the city must provide the poor with the basic essentials of American life. But the fundamental goal must be to break the self- perpetuating cycle of poverty caused by the cycle of ignorance. Long-term institutional mechanisms must be developed to "recycle" those kids-turned-parents who lack the minimum education required for self sufficiency, much less for raising kids that can learn their way to success. DC will never excel with less than10% of the area's taxpayers, but over 30% of its hard- core poor, and a bloated municipal bureaucracy struggling to tend to their needs.
NARPAC urges DC leaders to build on their current successes and expand their horizons.
DC's DEVELOPMENT CART IS WAY AHEAD OF ITS
UNBRIDLED PLANNING HORSE
Navy Yard revitalization is almost complete and construction is underway on the nearby Maritime Plaza and Southeast Business Center. 'Big box' stores are coming to Northeast. The Green Line is open. Sites for a new baseball stadium are under review. Metro's modest new 10-year plan will expand its rail and bus systems further into the suburbs and around the city. East of the Anacostia, 10,000 low and moderately priced homes are abuilding or occupied, including a fifth new Hope VI housing project. Parts of St. Elizabeth's hospital campus will soon become available for redevelop-ment. The development cart is rolling along apace.
But DC's antiquated comprehensive development plan dates back to 1985. It has platitudes for every advocacy from trees and bicycles to historic sites and monuments, but no quantitative guidance for how the city should grow within its fixed boundaries over the next 20 years. Officials hope the central city will "keep up" with its suburbs, while 'smart growth' assures higher core density. Higher density should produce greater use of public transportation, shared common spaces, and focus around metro stations. Protecting open spaces, neighborhoods, and unobstructed views of the skies is promised.
There are goals to preserve outdated structures for posterity, add urban avenues that discourage through traffic, and keep building height limits that defy the laws of economics, while using tax subsidies to bribe residents and businesses to move into the nation's capital. Residents are sought over businesses. There are no preferential zones for economic development beyond downtown, and no long-term plans to provide the needed transportation infrastructure. DC schools plan separately from the rest of the city. DC and Federal lands are planned separately, and neither plans cooperatively with the rest of the metro area. The planning horse is well behind the cart, and stumbling.
Furthermore, those directly involved in approving land use have no responsibility for DC's financial integrity. New property uses are not correlated with the costs they may incur or the revenues they may produce. The squeakiest wheels in the increasingly decentralized approval process have no interest or voice in the budget process. Activists for environment, history, sociology, aesthetics, and community all vie for the last word on how to use each property, but shun issues of poverty, taxing or servicing. There is no broad-based analysis of the city's needs or goals within the executive branch, and noone in the legislative branch seems to mind. The sickly planning horse is unbridled.
The next Williams Administration sorely needs to institute a modern urban planning process.
Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge yesterday urged officials of DC, Maryland and Virginia to increase preparations for a possible major terrorist attack in or near the nation's capital.... saying "clearly, today there is nothing more important"....Ridge's call for action came as DC Mayor Williams, Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, and Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening signed an eight-point agreement committing their governments to improving regional coordination during emergencies, a system that federal officials say they hope will become a national model. Mayor Williams responded that "we all recognize that we're probably the most complex government operating environment in the world, certainly in the country.....if we can make it work here, we can make it work anywhere."
"It is not obvious that DC will embrace accountability with open arms and necessary comprehension. It is obvious that without it, DC government performance will remain somewhere between total dysfunction and embarrassing mediocrity." (NARPAC editorial, 9/00)
Hardly a week goes by without reports of frustrating or embarrassing personnel problems in DC's government, from department heads to rank and file members. Some criticisms reach hysterical proportions, but the underlying implications of incompetent performance cannot be dismissed. And DC still employs far more personnel per capita than neighboring counties or comparable inner cities, paying them more to boot. One can only conclude that this mayor and his top aides are by choice still playing the hand their predecessors dealt them in 1999.
It would be easy to stretch the Deputy Chief's defensive remark too far. But fears that city leaders are still gambling with the city's future reputation; still playing a game defined by others; still using a deck that was stacked by others, with cards marked by others; and still being trumped by wild cards (most likely race cards) cannot easily be dismissed. The implication is clear: DC leadership has not declared its own game, chosen its own dealer, or demanded a new deck.
Whatever happened to early promises to: use benchmarking to show comparative governmental efficiency? set ambitious 'Scorecard' performance goals? revise job descriptions for civil servants? privatize bureaucratically incompetent offices? The CFO still cites so-called "budget pressures" to justify overspending in the same old areas. Annual salary awards still go to agency heads with flawed public records. City commissions continue to make dubious, high-handed decisions. Planning efforts still pander to the loudest squeaks, not the city's best interests. DC Council members accuse Congress of "not understanding the culture of DC residents."
Nevertheless, improvements in the city's physical appearance; investments in commercial and residential construction; and infrastructure modernization are all continuing and accelerating. The mayor is running for re-election essentially unopposed, (despite a very stupid re-election campaign staff and black leaders' dubious claims he has neglected the poor). Even a majority of black residents see development as a good thing. How to reconcile the two?
Evidently, most Washingtonians do not expect much from their local government. They will tolerate or accept incompetence to satisfy other lifestyle demands. People seldom choose where to settle based on the professionalism of city services, as long as some minimum standards are met . If they're not, most Americans move, or pay for needed services privately. Parents may migrate towards better schools, but nobody moves just to find a better DMV.
In fact, DC's most affluent are indifferent to city services, many of which go to those with the least socioeconomic mobility who must accept whatever they can get. Those services are delivered by some of DC's so-called middle class who lack the cultural heritage to do their city jobs well, but who are evidently at no risk of losing them. It is a formula for mediocrity. DC city service delivery may gradually improve just enough to avoid being a national embarrassment, but at the current rate, it will never reach the threshold of national pride.
MIXING 21ST CENTURY RELIGION AND POLITICS:
Crossing the Lines, Globally and Locally
The permanent poor in the US are predominantly black. Immigrants of all races and colors flood into the US and work their way into the American lifestyle within a generation or two. But the black are not poor because of the color of their skin. They are poor because so many of them are school drop-outs and have remained undereducated. They drop out in large measure because their teenage pregnancy rate is so high and their rate of marriage is so low. Two-thirds of black kids have at best only one parent, heavily stacking the deck against breaking the cycle of their poverty.
In our nation's capital, black political leaders are primarily black church leaders. And they are complaining that DC's black mayor has not done enough to alleviate black poverty. But DC's current mayor surely does not encourage black promiscuity, discourage black family cohesion, or belittle black family values. Morality is really none of his political business. His thankless task is to raise enough revenues from rich residents and businesses to pay for the consequences of unwed mothers spending a lifetime in poverty, partially illiterate, and begetting kids disadvantaged in every respect by their uniquely bad circumstances and lack of inspiration. Almost 70% of DC's budget goes to support the problems of the poor which the city government did not cause and cannot rectify. A recent study (unconfirmed by NARPAC) estimates that DC spends $750M of its $5.3B budget on the consequences of teen pregnancies alone.
There is no esoteric quandary here over which comes first, the poor chicken or the poor egg. The cycle of poverty can only be broken when the poor chicken consciously decides not to produce another poor egg, choosing instead to improve herself out of poverty and squalor. Neither the adamant poor nor their demagogic church leaders can pin their plight on their mayor. They can't vote or sing their way out of poverty. They must pull themselves and each other out of poverty. This requires the concerted efforts of a devoted ministry, backed up with the assistance of a compassionate mayor. They've got the latter. Where's the former?
CONGRESS MUST REDEFINE NATIONAL WELFARE THIS
YEAR: How about Redefining the Welfare of the Nation's Capital City Too?
The DC government is applying pressure this year to restore an annual Federal payment, asserting that the city cannot reliably continue to pay its own bills. At the same time, DC is also lobbying for the same voting representation in the House and Senate that states now enjoy. These two demands are incongruous. Both Congress and DC can do better.
The more important of the two demands is that DC residents get representation of some kind in the US Congress. But Congress does impose several constraints on DC's financial stability that pre-date any federal welfare program. It is high time for Congress to help encourage DC's self- sufficiency. This requires two distinct but related Congressional initiatives:
1. Assist the District in developing new revenue sources of its own:
o remove arbitrary legislative prohibitions which constrain the District from producing sufficient revenues to provide necessary services at costs comparable with those of its suburbs;
o empower the National Capital Planning Commission to seek and implement plans for enhancing the economic productivity of all federal capital area properties, and for turning over to DC for financially productive uses those that are surplus to current and foreseen federal needs;
o expand the use of federal agency funds to defray demonstrable costs of hosting the federal presence, and for city projects clearly intended to maintain and enhance DC's national posture.
2. Oblige metro area cooperation in providing DC "virtual state support":
o eliminate obvious conflicts of interest on the four DC oversight subcommittees which keep the Washington metro area from acting cooperatively to level the regional playing field;
o elevate the focus of Congressional oversight to matters impacting the overall success of our national capital metro area and perhaps other metro areas with similar socioeconomic inequities;
o require the surrounding state and local jurisdictions to assure that those regional residents needing the most government assistance are not forced to concentrate in the inner city;
o use regional federal grants to help equalize sorely needed improvements in affordable housing, transportation, health, and public education for kids and adults.
DISTORTING DC'S REAL 'STRUCTURAL IMBALANCE': The
Growth of a Dangerous Myth
The current phrase de jour is the "structural imbalance" supposedly imposed on DC by its unique status as the nation's capital. The 'imbalance' is said to result from DC residents' need for services that exceeds their willingness to pay for them (compared to other US citizens). It is said to be 'structural' because the root causes are declared to be beyond the victims' control.
The term was developed by Carol O'Cleireacian, nurtured by Alice Rivlin, formalized in the Mayor's annual address and budget books, certified by McKinsey & Co. consultants, beatified by the Federal City Council, and now reflected in Delegate E. H. Norton's proposed Congressional legislation.
This mantra claims DC should be reimbursed for losing $100-200M in property taxes not collected on federal properties (e.g., the Capitol building), non-profit institutions (e.g., the National Cathedral), foreign entities (e.g, the British Embassy), or thousands of acres of federal park land (e.g., the Mall), and over $400M in income taxes from 400,000 commuting workers. It claims $200M (way too high) in un-reimbursed services to federal entities (e.g., ambulances, police protection), and $100M in "state services" not required of other core cities (e.g., education, insurance regulation).
Even if these dubious estimates were correct, NARPAC believes large permanent federal payments will perpetuate the real problems, not cure them. Prescribed remedies are useless if the illness is incorrectly diagnosed, dangerous if other maladies are made worse. The ends must drive the means.
DC's basic illness is not diagnosed in this myth. Big federal payments are not the ends. The imbalance is rooted in what makes DC per capita services expenditures so much higher and less affordable than in nearby counties. Too many DC residents are poor. Too little DC land yields net revenues. The poor generate high demands for services, resist economic development, and are inefficiently tended by local municipal workers. These reflect in lower per capita property, income, and sales tax revenues, and higher per capita government costs than any other jurisdiction in the metro area.
Despite 12% of the region's population, and 14% of its households, DC's tax base includes only 8% of the region's household income, and 3% of its housing value to serve 29% of its poor families. If our national capital was re-located to Montgomery or Fairfax Counties, they would have no structural imbalance. DC's financial problems would be infinitely worse, and home rule even less practical.
The solutions lie in a) regional sharing of the burden of caring for and lessening poverty, and b) the ceding, swapping, or converting of a few hundred poorly used city and federal acres to highly productive local use. These means work towards honest ends. Renewed federal hand-outs do not.
WASHINGTON AREA TRANSPORTATION: CODE ORANGE
Politicians Fiddle While Chaos Grows
The Federal Government is cutting back transportation funding to make room for dubious increases in military spending, while doing nothing to stanch the guzzling by oversized personal vehicles. The Congress is threatening to discontinue essential passenger rail service, and bickering with local authorities over the investment costs of needed highway bridges and interchanges, while ignoring basic needs for railroad infrastructure. It continues to deny DC the right to tax its 400,000+ commuters, while wasting scarce funds to re-name National Airport.
Neither Virginia nor Maryland have yet accepted the need for major new highways and bridges to reduce the overloaded Beltway around DC, or for rolling back inappropriate tax breaks. Virginia lawmakers have denied local jurisdictions the right to hold a referendum to increase taxes to unclog their own roads, and are trying to link vastly different education and transportation funding needs.
Washington's metro region is expanding rapidly, but the increasing funding needs for an aging Metro rail and bus system are being largely ignored, with no dedicated revenue sources to de- politicize the annual funding process. Meanwhile, new programs are caught in a debate between light rail, heavy rail, and various cheaper, more flexible, bus modernization schemes.
DC itself remains inattentive to its local and intermodal parking needs (and car-towing scams); is only now setting up a separate transportation department (to match MD and VA); and is perpetuating a visitor-unfriendly taxi-metering system. It wants the federal government to underwrite its road infrastructure (and school facilities modernization); can't find room for its commercial bus station at its handsome railroad station; can't agree to re-zone areas around its metro stations for high-density, high-revenue growth; and can't settle on permanent sites for modern trash-transfer facilities. It is slow to accept air-rights developments atop its highways and railroad yards; and has only just begun to toy with Metro rail expansion for further essential urban development.
The sound development of the nation's capital metro area is at far greater risk from inattention to its long-range transportation needs than from the heinous acts of a few deranged terrorists.
SCHOOLS DON'T PRODUCE DUMB KIDS, DUMB PARENTS
NARPAC has pondered this problem since its incorporation, because the city's most embarrassing statistics are generated by those who are now in, once passed through, or dropped out of, DC's public schools. High crime rates, jobless rates, teen pregnancies, special ed rates, plus poor health statistics, low birth weights, literacy rates, and immunization rates, all derive from native Washingtonians, not from some uncontrolled influx of illegal aliens from Maryland or Virginia.
performance statistics from various schools within a single school system generally demonstrate two trends. First, there is substantial "scatter" between schools with almost identical student populations, indicating that individual school managements can surely influence their "output" but only within limits. Second, there is a more basic trend line through the scatter points indicating that the poorer the kids' families, the poorer the average kid's test scores will be. And this trend overwhelms the "scatter". The best schools at the bottom of the poverty (subsidized meal) scale produce lower test scores than the worst schools at the top of the affluence scale.
But parents don't pay for their kids' public education, so why is there any correlation with wealth at all? Some of the most legendary urban schools have crumbling facilities, barely paid teachers, and sparkling kids. Furthermore, pumping money into school systems seldom shows dramatic changes in output measures. The ability to teach is the primary domain of the school. The desire to learn is the primary domain of the household. How does poverty inhibit the ambition to learn?
Various Census statistics show incontrovertible evidence of two direct correlations between poverty and household potential. One is whether there are two adult householders providing strength and income for the family, or only one. The other is the strong relationship between householder income and the householder's own educational achievement Those with college degrees produce almost 5 times the income of those led by grade school drop-outs. Poverty indicators, then, seems to be measuring both the ability of parents to earn and their kids to learn.
Hence, high correlation trend lines can be drawn between kids' test scores and their parents' combined education level. Leave the poverty out of the equation. Moreover, those trend lines appear indistinguishable between the races. Leave race out of the equation. Match the parents' skills and ambitions, match their kids' success. Period.
IMPROVING DC HOUSING , Progress with Risk
To the extent that this bill hastens the removal of thousands of derelict properties, and provides better living conditions for DC's more disadvantaged residents, it is a welcome step in the right direction. The city is certainly obliged to do what it can to improve the quality of life for its many low income residents, and encourage them to move up the economic ladder and shift from renters to homeowners. It also provides tax incentives for developers to build more upscale housing units within DC, as long as some of them are available to those needing "affordable" housing.
The flip side of this worthy effort is that households making below $50K often rent and seldom generate enough in income, sales, and property taxes to pay their own costs in services. Attracting more residents in this category would be counterproductive. Renters seek to minimize their costs while homeowners try to maximize their investment. It takes 30 households in the $20-30K income bracket to pay the personnel costs for just one teacher, and 17 households in the $30-50K bracket to pay for just one cop on the beat. It could easily take ten low income households to pay for the one in seven DC kids in special ed. 70% of DC households report incomes below $50K. They provide less than 20% of the city's residential tax revenues which, in turn, make up only half the city's total locally raised revenues.
DC has a strong obligation to improve the lot of its own least fortunate. It has no mandate to embrace any more of the region's poor not already residing in the District. There is nothing apparent in this Housing Bill that restricts its benefits to those already living (and probably renting) in DC. Furthermore, there is no equivalent housing legislation in DC's wealthier surrounding jurisdictions aimed at improving the lot of their own poor who have been more and more squeezed by the recent economic boom.
If the unintended consequence of this well-meaning initiative is to increase the number of
DC residents who do not pay their own way, it will be a disaster.
Meanwhile, back in the nation's capital city, home to some 575,000 partially disenfranchised citizens, DC's mayor continued to pursue his urban revitalization efforts with little Federal or White House support, marginal regional cooperation, and a petty--often partisan--Council. The mayor has no license to ignore human rights, innocent bystanders or partisan critics. He faces an economy fallen victim to homeland insecurity, threatening the first budget deficit in five years. With little Executive charisma, a fumbling bureaucracy and no Legislative statesmen, Mayor Williams continued his domestic wars on nine fronts, making limited progress at best on a few of them. The War on Evildoers did not cause his failings, but surely provided no substantive aid.
The War Against Colonialism made symbolic, but fruitless progress;
The War Against Crime barely held its ground statistically and lost public confidence;
The War Against Poverty lifted only a very few hardcore unemployed off welfare;
The War Against Bad Health continued to show little basic advancement;
The War Against Ignorance showed real signs of progress, at least within the school system;
The War Against Urban Blight also made considerable progress;
The War Against Pollution gained an historic Anacostia River pact between DC and Maryland;
The War Against Urban Sprawl remained a losing game without a regional strategy;
The War Against Local Bureaucracy proved to be one of the most intractable.
Could Mayor Williams win these wars with bureaucrats as well trained and disciplined as the US military? Could he be more effective against universally certified "enemies" with popular backing approaching patriotic fervor? Could he benefit by suppressing civil rights and challenging his suburban "allies" to either contribute or be classified hostile? Could he move faster by ignoring the federal government, Congress, and special interest activists? Could he do better if Americans realized that the real threats to the fabric of their future life come from inside our borders and inside our cities? Could most big US city mayors benefit from a display of heroics from the White House? Does Homeland Security involve a great deal more than myopic focus on international terrorism? NARPAC firmly believes so.
STUCK ON THE BACKSIDE OF THE POWER CURVE Ever More Resources, Ever Slower Progress
Despite the headwinds produced by the 9/11 storm and a still-gathering recession, our nation's capital city is still moving towards a more modern and bustling city, though the flight is getting bumpier. Mayor Williams admits that DC is "only one crisis away from financial trouble", and both Maryland and Virginia are throttling back their budget expenditures. Public resources are dropping just when more are needed to avoid stalling out the area's long-term growth plan.
Assuring the long-range financial well-being of the city requires generating substantially more revenues within its limited space. DC has found no practical way to reduce the costs of its unusually large population of poor people or of city workers who support them. District officials are now urging the Congress to restore an annual federal payment to supplement DC's own revenues. This is tantamount to a permanent citywide welfare payment, even as it struggles to get a large number of individual welfare recipients off the dole.
A far better long-term solution would be for DC to develop the means for permanent self- sufficiency without evicting its disadvantaged, or depending on federal handouts. The entire metro area's economic stability requires cooperative long-range land-use planning, and long- range regional transportation planning consistent with it. It has neither.
During the past decade of ever-increasing prosperity, the decisions needed to bolster the region's economic growth through better land use and transportation infrastructure have been avoided or delayed. The backlog of funds required to maintain the current road, rail, and bridge infrastructure have grown. The transportation system costs required to keep viable the current growth both downtown and across the region have grown substantially, exceeding the region's willingness to pay.
The Wilson Bridge is years late, there are no planned "outer beltways", additional Potomac crossings, or regional connectors. Billions are required to add to public transportation in areas already saturated by their own prosperity (viz., New Blue Metro Line).Little funding or interest is left to develop new areas with high economic potential (viz. DC East of the Anacostia). New smart growth is being shelved to rescue past dumb growth (viz the standoff between the long- planned Purple Subway Line and the more expedient Purple Trolley Line). New projects are being undertaken without any underlying regional economic foundation (viz., the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative).
It is essential, even during this period of rough weather, to generate a long-range, achievable flight plan for when clear skies return. To remain unprepared will put in jeopardy our ability to reach our desired destination. The City Council, the Regional Council of Governments, and/or the US Congress should make sure America's capital does not fall short of its evident potential.
AMERICA'S CAPITAL CITY AT WAR --
Symbol of Strength or Proof of Weakness?
Never mind that this tragedy could have been avoided had we taken the same precautions as others who have lived with terrorism for years. Never mind that different American leadership might have responded differently. Never mind that the chances of accomplishing what the White House and the Congress have set out to do are slim at best. Never mind that we have not won prior open-ended sociological wars like those against poverty, drugs, or drunk driving. Nor has any religion rid the world of its version of evil.
The US has essentially declared an open-ended 'take-no-prisoners' holy war against the most fervent of the world's fringe ideologies. It has committed to taking as-yet undefined actions against up to16 countries-most of whose ways we cannot understand, languages we cannot speak, and poverty we cannot imagine. It has done so with only the tenuous endorsement of many of the world's leaders and multinational or global organizations. The US asserts it will make whatever sacrifices are required of our wealth, youth, and life style for as long as it takes--mentioning time frames as long as three presidential and five Congressional elections. Will even our adversaries take that seriously?
Meanwhile, will things change in the nation's capital city? Will suicidal fanatics target DC again as a symbol of American strength and/or debauchery? Will others increase the false alarm rate? Will government bureaucrats continue to overreact? NARPAC says yes.
Will the forces of evil relent? Will Congress and the Executive Branch permit DC to plan the city's heightened security? Can such increased caution avoid impacting on DC's economy? Will business and tourist visits return to 'pre-war' levels? Will this unique 'wartime economy' substantially increase DC's resident or working population? Does the August federal or local legislative agenda still pertain? NARPAC thinks not.
What then, would NARPAC like to see DC's government and activists do?
o Focus more on long-term citywide imperatives, like transportation and growth goals;
o Focus on improving partnership status with the Feds, Congress, and the metro area;
o Prepare for negative revenue growth and a slow-down in commercial revitalization;
o Increase demands for revenue- and poverty-sharing with the suburbs;
o Shelve any fantasies of greater political autonomy or statehood right now; and
o Avoid counterproductive histrionics over perceived threats to civil liberties.
VERY GOOD NEWS FOR THE DCPS CLASS OF 2010--But
What about the Class of 1990?
Over 400 teachers have been removed and 30-odd principals replaced for cause. Vance has singled out 9 schools for complete management overhaul: Ward 8's Simon Elementary, for example, is getting an 80% change in personnel including 60% new teachers. Ground has been broken for the first two schools in the ambitious new modernization plan. A new procurement system is in the offing. Most important, Vance's new "Business Plan for Strategic Reform" with concerned citizen input is nearing completion and is expected to remain his permanent guide.
The plan sets forth a clear intent to "address problems systemically rather than trying to fix one component without addressing its causes and dependents". Concrete evidence of this intent appears in a key new pilot program: 24 schools will offer a full range of city social services from counseling and health care to emergency food aid. Board President Cafritz asserts that the goal is for DCPS and the DC government (through the Deputy Mayor for Children, Youth, and Families) to provide a "seamless web of support for our children" across all relevant DC agencies.
NARPAC sees this school year as the start of a major revolution in DC's public schools. It is very good news for the Class of 2010 probably the first to benefit substantially from the new reforms. However, while these reforms are clearly necessary, they are surely insufficient. Most of the least successful past output of the DCPS is still nearby, producing its future inputs and environment. Think about it:
Since 1980, some 150,000 kids have entered DCPS, over 70% eligible for breakfast/lunch subsidies. Less than 60,000 have persisted to the 12th Grade, with 40,000 dropping out during High School. 200,000 kids have been born , over 125,000 out of wedlock, and 35,000 to mothers below the age of 20. 3600 died in infancy, and over 30,000 have required special ed many for life. 75,000 boys in this cohort have been in trouble with the law, with 40,000 still incarcerated. More than 10,000 DC employees tend to the needs of families below the poverty line.
If these DCPS drop-outs were PCB's, empty beer cans, or defective products, they would be "remediated", recycled, or recalled. As trapped humans, however, many are simply the parents of the Class of 2010, or the grandparents of the Class of 2015, perpetuating the cycle of failure outside the immediate purview of the school system.
The DCPS Business Plan cannot be deemed complete until it helps to break that cycle. It must reclaim the Classes of 1980 through 2005 by such means as adult and vocational education. Schools cannot assure DC kids' success as long as their home environment fails them.
TIME FOR THE "V-WORD"AT LAST?--Let the Vision Debate
To his credit, the Mayor's Vision was outlined in his 'strategic plan' in his first year in office. It was intended to "give voice to our shared vision for the city, and to empower citizens to improve their communities." The mayor retains this vision, and is clearly working to implement it. NARPAC damned it with faint praise, declaring it "necessary but not sufficient" as an ultimate vision for the nation's capital city.
Now the "strawman" Rivlin vision expands on the mayor's goals, keeping the major focus on neighborhoods, and increasing resident population as the only available means of increasing city revenues for urban revitalization. It visualizes 100,000 more residents in about 55,000 more households (22%), half of them producing 25,000 more students (32%) enrolled in public schools, the rest producing revenues. The authors suggest targeting certain neighborhoods for growth, avoiding gentrification, but attracting a key "anchor institution" to each to provide jobs and assistance. Increased public transportation capacity is posited but with fewer commuters and less traffic congestion. Closer ties with the suburbs are foreseen, and an annual Federal payment to DC for service costs incurred. Increased annual revenues of about 5% are visualized. NARPAC commends this effort for stressing "productivity" -- i.e., assessing whether various options produce more in revenues than they consume in service costs. We agree with several of its other goals, but still find it well short of a practical end state.
NARPAC's Vision is quite different, based largely on quantitative analysis, but not lightly offered. It sets DC in the context of its metro area and its unique role of hosting the nation's capital the only attribute that assures its prosperity. It favors commercial growth over residential growth for greater economic stability. It places primary emphasis on reducing DC's overload of high-cost poor families by instituting poverty-sharing with its suburbs in "anchor communities". It sees much slower residential growth, with continuing decline in public school enrollment. It stresses re-zoning for higher density growth near metro stations, and increasing the revenue potential from presently untaxed DC land. Growth is founded on a comprehensive regional transportation plan, with an expanding metro system, particularly across the Anacostia River and into Southern Maryland. A 25% revenue increase is projected. Neighborhoods would be clustered into 24 (nominal) "townships", each represented in a new bicameral Council, and each with productivity goals and modest taxing power. Congressional oversight would be very different.
It is past time to engage this debate using more factual data than societal romanticism. NARPAC is ready to participate whenever and wherever interested parties gather.
SAWING WOOD WITH A HAMMER, DRIVING NAILS WITH
o The GAO claims the modern financial reform systems are not and may never work;
o The FBI seizes files from the Police Union for misspending its funds;
o DC General's promised January lay-off of 500 workers was never implemented;
o DC General nurses shut down emergency care with a two-month sick-out;
o DC's IG finds $30M more in financial 'errors' at UDC in the past two years;
o DC's Tax Office finds endemic abuses of property deductions, tax payments;
o DC's Medical Examiner's backlog of cases and bodies has again risen over 1300;
o DC's Taxicab Commission lacks professionalism, judgment, and maturity;
o DPW is storing impounded cars on neighborhood streets after selling off a major lot;
o 30,000 of DCPS's 69,000 kids need summer school for 'below basic' performance;
o DCPS is planning to rebuild 40% more schools than will likely be needed;
o 76% of DC city workers are still represented by 34 local unions in 95 bargaining units;
o DCHD's latest head quits within a year already sick of "sawing wood with a hammer";
o Top mayoral aides are burning out and bailing out from the "grueling tasks of reform";
o The FY02 DC budget contains no visible efforts to streamline its bloated bureaucracy;
As this crucial year wears on, the window of opportunity to implement bureaucratic reforms will be shuttered in anticipation of next year's city elections. Vast amounts of energy and time will then be spent on hyperbole and racial demagoguery. Reform progress will be sidelined as democracy elevates self-indulgence over the common good. What will the campaign slogans be?
Is DC better off that it was four years ago? Unquestionably, yes.
But has DC yet laid the bureaucratic foundations for operating as a first class core city in the nation's pre-eminent metro area? Evidently not.
On June 8th, the Congress will hold a joint House-Senate hearing under the auspices of the House Government Reform Oversight Subcommittee on the District of Columbia, and the Senate Government Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, Restructuring, and the District of Columbia on:
"The Outlook for the DC Government: The Post Control-Board Period"
NARPAC has studied the causes of DC's many manifest problems for 5 years, and applauded the constructive changes now underway. The Control Board has served an important role in restoring fiscal responsibility. The City's leadership has improved substantially. Fiscal solvency is virtually assured by renewed economic growth and demographic changes. But strong and confident local governance will be required from both the Council and the Mayor's Office to resolve DC's endemic bureaucratic and socioeconomic problems. New, enlightened Congressional oversight is now essential.
It is time to radically restructure Congressional oversight of DC. It is counterproductive to have four Congressional subcommittees second-guessing DC's day-to-day decisions. It is wrong to perpetuate a full four subcommittee/committee budget process when no significant appropriations are forthcoming. And it is unfair for members of Congress with obvious jurisdictional conflicts of interest to exercise that oversight.
NARPAC also believes it is essential to refocus Congressional oversight. With only 12% of the region's people, 5% of its taxpayers and 4% of its wealth, DC cannot successfully administer to over half of the region's homeless, unemployed, working poor, single moms, mentally challenged, failing students, crime victims, and incarcerated youth.
DC is the weakest link in a largely dysfunctional metro area. There is little or no sharing of the region's wealth, poverty, skilled resources, or long-range development planning, and DC cannot oblige the rest of the metro area to level the socioeconomic playing field. But these problems are not unique to DC. Many older US cities have been unable to reconcile local jurisdictional bigotry with regional cooperation--even with their own state house(s).
The clear and unique role for Congress is to encourage metro area-wide solutions to metro area-wide problems. Basic inner city/suburban disparities need to be addressed by a senior, non-partisan, policy-level committee--as economics and taxation are.
Therefore, NARPAC suggests the next Congress replace the 4-subcommittees with a Joint Committee of the Congress for US Metro Area Development and the District of Columbia.
From its broader political perspectives, Congress may prefer other approaches. But this hearing could instigate the process of finding better answers as to what metro area issues and who needs to be overseen--and by what committee with what members.
80% of Americans now live in metro areas. 100% of Americans should be proud of their national capital city. There are major, related national-level issues here without national-level attention. Some are listed below. All apply to the DC metro area. All involve federally-supported programs and assets, and ultimately, our national pride.
For the National Capital Metro Area and Others as Well
o Locating more public/affordable housing closer to where the jobs now are
o Sharing health care and medical facilities needs of the uninsured poor
o Sharing the special education needs of the disadvantaged and underemployed
o Productive use of extensive underutilized federal lands within metro areas
o Siting high-employment government facilities to benefit inner cities
o Transferring underutilized government land for local economic development
Stimulating regional plans for economic development of lagging metro sectors
o Long-range multi-modal transportation plans and trust fund uses for metro areas
o Incentives for common--competitive--regional procurement of goods and services
o Federally-authorized resource transfers to level the "socioeconomic playing field"
THE ART OF GOVERNING AND BEING GOVERNED--and
Avoiding Panderers' Box
o The city is awash in poor, disadvantaged, and homeless people. Many seem to believe that they are governed only by their local pastors. Their demands on city revenues skew DC's budget so that it bears little resemblance to those of the more self-reliant suburbs. And they are vulnerable to demagoguery.Against this backdrop, DC's 20-odd major elected officials (including school board) are accusing each other of not understanding the art of governing. The mayor is belittled for pandering too little, ignoring constituencies, and trying to make too many changes. The Council is charged with pandering too much, inciting racism, and ignoring the need for major changes. Residual rancor is likely to diminish progress in other key areas.
But little is said about DC's electorate and its indifference to the art of being governed. Unless and until an enlightened and positively involved electorate offers to cooperate with the people it duly elected, and obliges those officials to cooperate with each other, progress towards urban excellence is likely to fail. There is remarkable naivety about what American democracy means, and a resistance to elected authority approaching paranoia. In the case of improving DC's health care for the indigent, the DC political system failed, even though the better albeit bolder--plan has been approved.
As a recent Post editorial posits, a large segment of DC's polarized electorate is now anxious to see the Mayor's plan fail and may, in fact, be able to kill it. On the other side, the Mayor has been forced to promise more than his Health Department bureaucracy can deliver. Together, these avoidable extremes are likely to spell national embarrassment.
What is clearly needed is a set of politically acceptable safeguards by which to assure that a) the desired goals for this landmark change are being met, and b) management is ready, willing and perceptive enough--to make the inevitably needed course adjustments. This would be an ideal opportunity to convene a metro-wide watchdog advisory group of healthcare specialists charged with preventing the needless failure of this essential urban function. Somehow, the DC political system doesn't seem mature enough to create one.
AMERICA'S FUTURE: FOCUSING ON THE FIRST ORDER
o America's primary domestic problem is the growing and unsettling rift between its richer and poorer citizens and immigrants.
o Poverty, not race or ethnicity, is the primary generator of chronic poor health care, high crime rates, and failed education--all matching 3rd World conditions.
o Poverty tends to concentrate in ghetto areas where it feeds on itself and grows, breeding despair, and counter-cultural behavior.
o Most of America's poor now live in run-down core areas of aging US metropolitan areas. Most of America's well-off live in the newer, expanding suburbs. Over 80% of all Americans live in less than 200 metro areas.
o Outdated jurisdictional boundaries within many US metro areas serve as 'filters'--pushing success outward, and pulling failure inward as the two conditions repel each other.
o Solutions to poverty require a) substantial commitments of national wealth and b) major efforts to relocate the poor into small groups closer to the roots of their salvation: community assistance, role models, training, jobs--and hope.
o The Federal Government has professed far more concern--and provided far more remedial funding--for mitigating damage to the physical environment from chemical wastes than to the social environment from wasted human lives.
o The Federal Government is, and will remain, the major source and instigation for alleviating ingrown poverty, even though the resulting programs will be better implemented by metro-specific regional authorities.
o The Federal Government has no explicit advocate for formulating metro-wide poverty-sharing programs. Congress has no committee or subcommittee, and the Executive Branch no office or agency, with "Metro Area" in its title.
o Until such metro area-related government structures are purposefully established, the major causes of American poverty, and the resulting risks of "class warfare" will continue to seriously tarnish the lustre of the American Dream.
PERSISTENT MYTHS CREATE PERSISTENT
The judgments appear related to some idealized version of the past, not some practical extrapolation to the future. Core cities in the post-sprawl, post-smokestack, post-welfare era simply cannot sustain the former mixes in demographics, work force, and land-use. The cities of the '40s and '50s had integral suburbs, a single revenue base, a mostly resident workforce, much larger, two-parent families, self-supporting local ethnicity--and far fewer cars;
Here are ten persistent myths about DC's future that bear little or no relation to
MILETONES and MILLSTONES
This page was updated on Jul 5, 2005