Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Can you be a Marxist and a conservative at the same time? DC property taxation and capital improvements planning

I joke that the more I learn about land use development and how things work, the more I become an intellectual Marxist, given that Marxism is about the best framework for understanding the motivations of capitalism (but not so great for figuring out alternatives).

I am not one for criticizing government spending as a matter of course, although like anyone I am not in favor of "government waste."

That's why I wrote yesterday about the misguided actions by City Council to exempt people 75 years or older from property taxes.  This has unintended consequences, counter-intuitive perhaps, that aren't necessarily positive for neighborhood stabilization, let alone the financial implications for the city.

But it's worth writing about this again, in terms of the financial implications for the city, because of the quote from Jack Evan's in yesterday's Post:
"When we have record surpluses, we [the government] don't need the money."
He is absolutely wrong that the city has so much money it can be cavalier about taxation.  Mostly we aren't spending money where we need to spend it.

In the past few months it has been argued that:

1.  DC doesn't have enough money to fund a soccer stadium, so it proposes to resort to trading parcels of land ("Gray officials propose forgoing taxes for DC United stadium," Post);

2.  because the city didn't receive a $500,000 grant from the federal government, it lacks the money to proceed on the rehabilitation of the Greenleaf public housing project ("Greenleaf Redevelopment Could Be Delayed as D.C. Misses Cut on Planning Grant," Washington City Paper);

3.  The city doesn't have enough money to fix the Central Library, but the library can be expanded and the new space rented out for commercial use, which could pay for the library ("District weighs proposals for renovating MLK Library while preserving historic status," Post).

From the Post article:
The board also heard from real estate analyst Jair Lynch, who put some rough figures on the various options now before the board. Simply renovating the library as is, without the internal reconfiguration, would cost the District $5 million to $10 million a year in regular maintenance and upgrades. The plans presented by Freelon would cost between $175 million and $250 million. That could require an increase in the District debt limit, and could be a hard sell with the D.C. Council and voters. But other options, including a state-of-the-art automated parking facility below ground, might bring in new revenue, as would renting space on new floors added above the existing library.

4.  DC is planning to encumber a significant amount of future property tax revenue to build the streetcar system, limiting the ability to finance other projects elsewhere in the city.

It's clear that tens of millions of dollars in reductions in annual property tax revenue is a big deal.

So Jack Evans makes me want to jump on the conservative bandwagon and spout off that any government spending is inherently wasteful, because of his clear lack of concern about building for the city's future.

In any case, he shouldn't be chair of the Council's finance committee and he probably ought not to be considered a solid candidate for mayor either.

P.S.  Of course, related to this is the fact that DC doesn't have an open and transparent process for capital improvements planning and budgeting either.  These kinds of decisions need to be considered in concert, rather than one by one.

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At 12:22 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

I'd say Evans is very well qualified, because he knows that his proposal isn't going to do much to city finances. There may be a year or two with a 10% increase in valuations, but that is a an exceptional year and probably shouldn't counted.

And yes, you need to start with a capital budget and work down from there.

While personally I am in favor of higher real estate taxes, the "Conservative" point of view in DC is that the money isn't being well spent. As friends say, you pay more in MoCo buy you get a lot more.

At 1:23 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

sadly, sadly, I have to agree with you about wasteful spending in DC.

Did you see the article a couple weeks ago, how DC finally spent a bunch of money for DCPS on support equipment like instruments for music instruction?

I was thinking, how is it that DC spends $800MM+ annually on schooling and doesn't have musical instruments?

At 11:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My guess is that a big chunk of that $800 mil goes to a whole layer of useless administrators with huge salaries.


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