Crazy a** talk about capital budgeting in DC
Yes, DC as a local government has a lot of debt because of the capital budget, such as for the Convention Center, baseball stadium, etc.
But it is not bad policy to pay for capital improvements over time, through the use of bond funding and debt, because the benefits of such investments are borne over many years, and it makes sense, even if more costly, to use debt to finance this so that future beneficiaries (in subsequent tax years) also pay for the cost of the improvements.
So today's column by Jonetta Rose Barras in the Washington Examiner, "D.C.'s dangerous debt noose," is scary.
The article makes a bunch of unanalogous comparisons--the cost of operating an agency in one year vs. debt repayment in one year for the entire city's capital improvements program for all agencies, from the schools to the parks and those aforementioned big ticket items like the Convention Center.
Yes, I think it's crazy that DC doesn't really have a public capital budgeting system, comparable to how counties in Virginia and Maryland have capital budget planning and improvement programs that run on a 6-year cycle, with a 2-year running budget.
This is the webpage for Baltimore County's Capital Improvement Program, which I am marginally familiar with, having worked there in the Office of Planning for a brief period--management of this process was housed in the same unit as my bike and pedestrian planning study.
(In DC, some agencies do have more public processes, such as the Department of Housing and Community Development and the Department of Transportation.)
And I do think that DC could spend its money on public facilities much better.
-- Prototyping and municipal capital improvement programs (2008)
-- Another take on municipal capital improvement planning (2009)
-- Provision of public services and recreation centers (2009)
But not having a very public process and lacking a comprehensive plan for facilities development and improvement is even a bigger problem than debt. Without such a process and plan makes it unlikely that a better process will result any time soon.
Too bad calling for such a process wasn't a focus of the Barras column.