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May 15, 2013

Disclosure Flaws

Dear Disclosers:

Does Jack Evans really want to make an effort to loosen DC’s already lax ethics and disclosure laws for councilmembers a centerpiece of his campaign for mayor? Read Alan Blinder’s article in the Examiner, "DC Councilman Wants Disclosure Law Axed,"


Henry Grabar, "Why We Should Never Fine Cyclists," The Atlantic Cities,, gives a cyclist’s take on whether bicyclists should be required to obey traffic laws. "Here’s mine: I hope it never happens. On balance, cyclists’ illegal behavior — like that of pedestrians — adds much, much more convenience to life than danger. Aggressive enforcement of traffic laws could upend the fragile system of incentives that leads thousands of people to undertake a long and sweaty commute each day. Why should people riding 20-pound bicycles obey laws designed to regulate the conduct of 4,000-pound cars, to say nothing of accepting the same penalties? In terms of the damage we can cause and sustain in an accident, cyclists have more in common with pedestrians than cars and should be treated accordingly."


The PowerPoint presentations on changing DC’s Height Act that are being given by the Office of Planning and the National Capital Planning Commission at its public meetings are reproduced in Aaron Weiner’s article, "How to Rile Up a Crowd (in DC): Talk Building Heights,"

Gary Imhoff


More on Undergrounding Power Lines
Dorothy Brizill,

At a press conference on Wednesday, May 15, Mayor Gray announced the findings and recommendations of his Power Line Undergrounding Task Force, which he had established in August 2012, "to advise the mayor on the general causes of storm-related power outages in the District, actions that may be taken to reduce future storm-related power outages, and the undergrounding of power lines" (Mayor’s Order 2012-130). While neither an executive summary nor a copy of the Task Force’s report was available at the press conference, an abridged version of the report’s findings and recommendations has been posted on the web site of the city administrator at

While the details of the report have yet to be fully revealed, we do know that the initial phase of the undergrounding project will cost one billion dollars; take six to seven years; and focus on sixty high voltage power feeder lines in Wards 3, 4, 5, 7, and 8 that have been most affected by overhead-related power outages. DC residents and businesses will pay for the project through their tax dollars as well as through an increase in the cost of Pepco’s electric rate (i.e., a 3.23 percent increase in the electric rate for residential customers and a rate increase between 5 percent and 9.25 percent for commercial customers). In addition, District residents and visitors will be adversely impacted for the next six to seven years as neighborhood streets and commercial corridors are excavated to allow for burying power lines.


Feeling Like 1998
Jonetta Rose Barras,

Ward 6 DC Councilman Tommy Wells is poised to formally announce this weekend his candidacy for mayor. No one is surprised. But, if he stays in the race, he will have to give up his seat in the legislature; his council term expires in 2014.

Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans is expected to announce for mayor next month. Ward 4 Councilwoman Muriel Bowser was the first to officially jump in the race.

Does it feel like 1998?


UN Human Rights Committee to Take Up DC’s Disenfranchisement Once Again
Timothy Cooper,

The UN Human Rights Committee has issued a list of issues that will be raised with the government of the United States of America between October 15 and November 1 in Geneva, Switzerland, when a US delegation will come before the Committee ( At that time, the United States will be required to address these issues in the context of its international human rights obligations. Among the issues to be considered by the Committee is the disenfranchisement of the residents of the District of Columbia.

World Rights earlier this year submitted material to the Committee about the District’s disenfranchisement, which led to the adoption of the issue. See See also UN Human Rights Committee link: Based on the language of the list of issues adopted by the UN Human Rights Committee in March, 2013, UN Committee members will make inquiries of the United States as to the "steps taken or foreseen to ensure that residents of Washington, DC, can exercise the right to vote and elect representatives to the Senate and House of Representatives."

After consideration of the United States’ responses and position, the Committee will then issue recommendations regarding US compliance with its international treaty obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the world’s leading human rights treaty. The Committee’s recommendations will be issued in December, 2013. In 2006, the UN Committee called on the US to comply with its treaty obligations to grant DC residents the right to participate in their national legislature through duly elected representatives.


New DC "Millionaires" Tax for Everyone Else
Neil Williams,

For two years, the DC Fiscal Policy Institute (DCFPI) has vigorously opposed a grassroots group of retirees who are trying to repeal a tax on the interest from "out-of-state" municipal bonds. This tax was enacted in May 2011 without any hearings to fill a revenue gap that has never materialized. Most DC residents with this bond income are seniors who prefer conservative and dependable investments. This is important because DC is on the US News and World Report’s list of the ten worst (most costly) US cities for retirees.

The DCFPI has continued to claim, incorrectly, that every state taxes all out-of-state bond income (nine do not, seven with no income tax and two with income taxes). Instead the DC bond tax makes DC residents into second-class citizens. DC is the only local jurisdiction in the United States whose residents pay tax on all municipal bonds issued outside its borders. Unlike any state, DC is a medium-sized city that issues very few bonds and has no single-state bond funds, which makes adequate diversification impossible.

The DCFPI’s most recent attempt to perpetuate the tax is to propose applying the bond tax to anyone with an income over $75,000. At the same time, the DCFPI alleges that this tax is just intended to eliminate the "tax breaks" of "millionaires." Although there are eighty-one filers with average bond income over $2 million, 17,967 other filers also receive bond income. If enacted, this tax on investment income would be the only one in the country that is based both on a resident’s income and the geographic location of the payer (inside or outside of the city). DC’s revenue in 2013 will be over $5.7 billion, but the revenue from this tax will be only about $1 million in the first year and possibly $11 million over the next four years. So the bond tax won’t raise much revenue, but it will hurt seniors and retirees with moderate incomes while treating all DC residents as second-class citizens.


Storing Streetcars
Don Hawkins,

Having noticed the comment in themail that DC’s streetcars had been in storage for three years, I responded [themail, May 5] that they were bought at least seven years ago, and that their maintenance should be included in the ultimate cost of the system. Richard Layman’s reference to the long-lasting San Francisco streetcars [themail, May 8] couldn’t have been further off base. I meant to call attention to the high-tech character of the ones we own. In San Francisco they use cable cars — the most primitive type of vehicle possible. They just get pulled from place to place by an external mechanism. DC had one of those long ago, but it had severe limitations to where it could go and whom it could

serve. Ironically, H Street would been an ideal route for a cable car because it is a straight route and wouldn’t require overhead wires.

I don’t know the maintenance details of any other streetcar systems, but I would be willing to bet that the control and propulsion systems of the systems Richard cited have been updated and replaced several times since they were built.

The more sophisticated a machine is, the more important its maintenance is. My twenty-six-year-old bicycle does fine with an annual cleaning. A safe and dependable twenty-first century, 156-passenger vehicle is another thing altogether.


Drivers Licenses
Lisa Swanson,

[Reply to Mary C. Young, themail, May 12] I hope that the plan is not to give drivers licenses to anyone, as you fear, leading to more traffic. In fact, I propose that, starting immediately, drivers licenses would be issued only to those people — US-born or otherwise — who pass an actual driving test, initially and again at five or ten-year renewal points. The test might require a little study, because there could be questions about what to do at stop signs and red lights, how and when to use a turn signal, and what those funny stripy things are at intersections.

My plan would result in taking a lot of drivers off the roads, unless they all begin to enjoy walking and biking, as all of us communists and socialists wish. Driver’s licensure would be about driving, nothing more.


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