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November 7, 2010


Hey Big Spenders:

A reader whose handle is “flyboy,” but who is otherwise anonymous, sent a link to an article by Michael Neibauer in the Washington Business Journal, “DC on a Spending Spree?” “On October 6, the District implemented a 10 percent, virtually across-the-government spending cut on supplies, materials, contracts, subsidies, and equipment. On the orders of Mayor Adrian Fenty and the DC Council, new hiring was barred, vacant positions frozen, and travel and training prohibited. One would think, then, that the District’s spending plans might have changed, even slowed. They apparently have not. The District obligated roughly $1 billion through the first month of fiscal 2011, more than twice as much as it did through the same period of the last fiscal year.”

Does this surprise anyone? Does anyone think that Mayor-Elect Gray and the city council are going to respond to the fiscal straits of the District by cutting spending and cutting District government programs? Or does everyone understand that the mayor and council are looking forward to using the government’s past and current overspending as an excuse to raise taxes and fees in order to finance future overspending? Is there a proponent of fiscal responsibility in city government who isn’t just preparing the ground for higher taxes?

In the past, I’ve criticized the DC Republican Party for not providing a conservative alternative to Democrats in city government, for running, as Barry Goldwater would have put it, as an echo, not a choice. If anything, Republicans in this town run to the left of Democrats on most social issues. Certainly, there aren’t that many residents of the District who consider themselves politically conservative, so I can’t argue that conservatism is the Republicans’ path to electoral success in this city. But here’s my proposal: Republicans, if they’re determined to be socially liberal, can still be fiscally conservative. They can run as the active and vocal proponents of cutting government programs, cutting government budgets and spending, cutting the special favors and funding that government officials give to their favorites. I’m willing to bet that they’ll find an audience, find supporters, and even find some voters. I wouldn’t go as far as to predict electoral victories for them, but at least they’ll be playing a useful role in city politics.


I didn’t publish themail last night because Comcast went down again for several hours. For the past two months, we’ve been getting outages that last for an hour or longer at least once a week. Has anyone else had the same experience with unusually unreliable service? We live in Columbia Heights. Are the outages localized just to our neighborhood, or are people all around town having the same problem?

Gary Imhoff


Council Alert
Dorothy Brizill,

At Tuesday’s legislative session, the council will consider and vote on two issues that are of concern to all DC residents. The first bill is the Wildlife Protection Act of 2010, which will have its second and final reading. Over the past few months, Gary and I have written several articles about this controversial bill, drafted by Mary Cheh at the bidding of the Washington Humane Society. The bill places “restrictions on the capture, handling, and transport of wildlife,” defined as “any free-roaming wild animals” (such as raccoons, squirrels, opossums, pigeons, bats, and snakes). Under the legislation, for example, captured wildlife must be “released immediately at the site of capture,” “released to a suitable location,” or “transferred to a wildlife rehabilitator.” (There is no wildlife rehabilitation facility in the District, and federal and state laws severely restrict the transport of wildlife across state lines to Maryland and Virginia.) Other controversial provisions would ban the use of glue traps and would require that “every reasonable effort” should be made “to preserve family units” of captured wildlife.

The second matter on Tuesday’s agenda would reappoint Betty Anne Kane to a new four-year term as the chairman of the Public Service Commission (PSC) (Bills 18-971 and 18-972). Kane has been a controversial member and chair of the PSC, which oversees and regulates utilities in the District. Civic and community organizations have long complained that Kane was too cozy with the utilities she is supposed to regulate, especially PEPCO, at the expense of citizens’ interests. The placement of Kane’s nomination on the council agenda has created a firestorm of protests from people who complain that it was done as a backdoor deal with Council Chairman/Mayor Elect Vincent Gray. Kane is a Ward 6 resident who had been nominated by Mayor Fenty in July. In public pronouncements, Gray had asked for a hold to be put on all nominations until he was installed in the mayor’s office, so that nominees could be thoroughly reviewed by his new administration. But according to Wilson Building sources, Kane and former Ward 6 Councilmember Sharon Ambrose had a recent closed-door meeting in Gray’s office at which Gray gave the green light for Kane’s nomination to be marked up by Muriel Bowser’s Committee on Public Services and placed on the legislative agenda. (See and


Estate Taxes and Our Futures
William Haskett,

In a recent discussion with my estate lawyer, I learned that the District is one of those states (sixteen out of the fifty) whose level of estate taxes is not linked to whatever happens at the federal level, so that, regardless of the fact that you may not be required to file at the Federal level, you must file at the District level. When I began to think about this, in the late 1990s, the Federal level was somewhere close tot the $675,000 mentioned in the District code, before it increased to one million dollars in 2003. It has not been increased since then, although the Federal level of exemption has been than tripled to over two million dollars, and it has been widely thought that it would be increased even more, to $3.5 million in the near future. The results of the recent Federal election would support this supposition.

Meanwhile, the District’s estate tax provision was increased — but only to one million dollars, in 2003, without any regard to the typically huge increase in the price of houses — which tend to be the single largest piece of most people’s estates. I have not, so far, been able to ascertain the rate at which the estate tax is levied, so you will have to look elsewhere for that. But isn’t it clear that the twin facts of death and the local District’s estate tax will take a significant bite out of the amount that will reach any inheritor of such property? No doubt there are good reasons for the discrepancy, but I’d like to hear more on this issue.

The most obvious remedy for individuals might be thought to be a change of residence, but even this has been thought about by those who oversaw the development of the discrepancy between federal and District levels of exemption. I am told that the value of any property actually held within the District is taken to be a proportion of the total estate, and the tax levied on that ratio. In most circumstances, the larger the overall value of the total, the smaller is the proportion of any such real estate. Where the most valuable item of many people’s estate is their house, the fraction subject to District tax goes up, of course. In that sense, the assessments of the last decade now figure in a calculation which uses them against the homeowner. Correspondingly, the larger the fraction of most people’s estate represented by the occupied house, the larger the fraction of the overall estate subject to the tax. Given the decline in the value of other investments (in the stock market, say) the fraction of an estate represented by ownership of a residence is surely likely to be higher than ever, for the foreseeable future and for most people, including the elderly.

I realize that this discussion may be considered a trifle morbid, but it has a certain importance. I should like our new mayor and the reshuffled council at least to discuss the possibility of a new look at the District’s estate tax in the light of these options for change, both at the federal and at the District level.


DPR Veterans’ Day Schedule
Kevin B. Twine,

DPW will not collect trash and recycling on Veterans Day, Thursday, November 11. Leaves will be collected on that day as scheduled. All services will resume Friday, November 12. There will be no trash and recycling collections. These collections will slide to the next day. Thursday’s collections will be made Friday, and Friday’s collections will be made Saturday. This applies to both once-a-week and twice-a-week collection neighborhoods. Trash and recycling containers should be put out for collection no earlier than 6:30 p.m. the night before collection and removed from public space by 8:00 p.m. on the collection day.

Parking meters will not be in effect, residential parking, and rush hour lane violations. It also will not tow abandoned vehicles. Ft. Totten Transfer Station, located at 4900 John F. McCormack Road, NE, will be closed Thursday, November 11. It will reopen Friday at 1:00 p.m. for residents to bring bulk trash. Residents also may bring bulk trash Saturday, 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The next Saturday Household Hazardous Waste/E-cycling/Document Shredding drop-off day is December 4, 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Directions to Ft. Totten: travel east on Irving Street, NW, turn left on Michigan Avenue, turn left on John F. McCormack Road, NE and continue to the end of the street.

Between Monday, November 8 and 20 (including Veterans Day), DPW will collect leaves from “Area A” neighborhoods as designated in the leaf collection brochure mailed to households that receive DPW trash/recycling collections. Area A residents should rake their leaves into their treebox spaces this weekend to be ready for their collection cycle. To view DPW’s trash and recycling holiday schedule for the remainder of the year, visit click on or call 311. Residents also can use DPW’s web site to view the 2010-2011 leaf collection schedule by selecting Leaf Collection and clicking on “Check Leaf Collection Status in Your Neighborhood” ( and entering their addresses.


Height Issue
William Haskett,

The comments on the Fred Barnes article in the November 3 issue of themail suggest a variation on the local emphasis of themail, corrected, as it has to be, by the non-local issues of urban plans imposed on a city which has enormous symbolic structures that do not match its height limitation or the proposal to make it a commercial place that will have the same anxieties about “growth” and “development” (including “height,” as laid out in the New York Times of November 4, “In the Capital, Rethinking Old Limits on Buildings,”

These broader issues would seem to suggest a push against the notion of “a real expert in urban planning [who] would design systems and cities to make it easier for people to live their lives according to their own preferences. Instead, we have to fight against phony experts who want to impose their preferences and their visions on other people.” The phonies may, after all, have the last word, if symbolism and history raise the level of decision for everyone.


DC Budget Problems
Vic Miller,

I agree with themail [October 31] that Colby King’s piece on DC’s fiscal problems is worth reading, but I do have one major problem with the article — his anointing Councilmember Evans as the saint of fiscal rectitude. In my opinion, Mr. Evans has raided our cookie jar more and more often than any other city councilmember. Worse, he generally has done it more to benefit his clients (such as the Marriott Corporation) than city residents.

Lead with his promotion of those two huge white elephants, the Convention Center and the ballpark. Add in substantial and multiple subsidies to a wide range of interests. What was it again that he told us as a reason for subsidizing the construction of luxury hotels? And no other city ward’s commercial districts have had the same extent of physical investment by the city as Ward 2 — Georgetown, southwest Waterfront Mall, P Street, etc.

It took some time, but eventually other councilmembers figured this out, and jumped in themselves. So yes, Mr. Evans can claim that he has been a deficit hawk for the past few months. But the horse has left the barn.



Smart Meter Education Workshop, November 16
Brenda Pennington,

The Office of the People’s Counsel and the Dupont Park Civic Association present a Smart Meter Education Workshop on smart grid components, on Tuesday, November 16, 6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m., at the Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church, 3000 Pennsylvania Avenue, SE. The topics to be discussed will include how to prepare, what to expect, future benefits, and anticipated challenges. For more information, contact the Office of the People’s Counsel, 727-3071.


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