CM Jack Evans wrote about the FY 2015 budget in his July 2 newsletter in the piece "Keeping the District on Solid Economic Footing":
I wrote this opinion piece in response to the changing economic conditions of the District and the FY2015 budget that recently passed the D.C. Council. It originally appeared in the Washington Post on June 29, 2014.
With the District's population growing by 1,000 residents per month, with its fiscal reserves topping $1.75 billion and with the D.C. Council's recent effort to cut taxes by $165 million to make our tax system fairer and more competitive, there is a sense in some quarters that the District has achieved fiscal prosperity.
Yes, our strengthened position, buttressed by careful investments in economic development, has kick-started a virtuous cycle in which growing tax receipts fund investments in education, public safety, transportation, health care, the social safety net and amenities such as neighborhood libraries and local playgrounds.
But let's resist the urge to celebrate quite yet. Our successes have been buoyed by a strong regional economy and the stabilizing influence of federal spending. Headwinds include a persistently high unemployment rate fueled by a skills gap, a regulatory environment perceived as hostile to business , a civic infrastructure approaching the end of its useful life and a reliance on the federal sector for job growth at the expense of economic diversification.
Fifteen years ago, when we passed the Tax Parity Act of 1999, we complemented broad-based tax relief with systemwide financial management improvements and responsible, long-term decision-making. We must now take the same thoughtful approach to address today's churning economic forces. Here are five places to start:
- Beyond regional competition: The country's most successful cities have learned how to transcend regional competition and embrace regional cooperation. While the District is thriving due to macro-level trends that are spurring development in our transit-oriented urban corridors, these regional advantages are never permanent as tastes change and other communities replicate our successful models. Rather than chasing after the same businesses and residents, the District should work with our neighbors to identify our relative strengths and then focus on leveraging those strengths so that the region is stronger and healthier.
- Beyond effectiveness: Although we have improved the quality of public services, too often that improvement has been through investing more resources rather than a more intelligent deployment of resources. Through the use of technology, the adoption of nationally recognized practices and the empowerment of employees, the District can improve service delivery and save resources. Areas that are primed for more efficient operations include affordable housing, business permitting, contracting and procurement, homeless services and post-secondary education.
- Beyond simplistic solutions: We are a progressive city and our residents are deeply committed to education, opportunity and a safety net for those less fortunate. Given the great economic disparities, there is a temptation to fall back on business taxes, estate taxes and income taxes on high-income residents in our attempt to create a fairer system. The District is subject to the same global trends that are making it easier for people, businesses and capital to relocate with ease. We need to explore strategies to keep our residents and businesses from leaving when they become successful. Policies that raise revenue in the short term may have the opposite effect over the long term.
- Beyond government-only solutions: Our most successful investments over the past 25 years have been the result of public-private collaboration. Projects such as the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, the Verizon Center and Nationals Park have been development drivers and have created long-term value for the District. Unlocking new strategies for funding infrastructure can catalyze the next generation of defining projects, including Union Station, Walter Reed, Poplar Point, Metro expansion and streetcars . Taking advantage of these opportunities will require us to be responsible and creative.
- Beyond uncertainty: The commercial property market is changing in ways we don't yet understand. Sales prices are rising to record levels as sovereign wealth funds flock to D.C. real estate as a solid long-term investment. But in the short-term, market-shifting forces such as the transition of federal and private offices to smaller footprints, the increasing ease with which employees can telecommute and new business models that allow employers to disaggregate their operations across multiple offices, states and nations are contributing to a destabilizing uncertainty . The District must be attentive to these trends and seek citywide opportunities to enhance the stability of our investment climate.
Our recent tax cuts provide an occasion for us to look back and appreciate how far we have come, but let's make it a quick look. The opportunities ahead can take us even further.