The Human Rights Challenge in the District of Columbia: the Struggle for Economic, Social and Political Justice.

What is the human rights crisis in the District?

See Update: Can We Afford... (Update added 11/23/99)

While life expectancy has been increasing nationally in the last 15 years, it has declined in the District . The shocking fact is that life expectancy for DC men is 10 years below the national average, for women 5 years. For Black men in DC, the life expectancy is now 56 years or less, for Black women 72. The life expectancy for Black men in the District is lower than for any nation in this hemisphere except for Haiti (1). Growing evidence links income inequality and shorter life spans. This cause and effect relation apparently occurs comparing nations, as well U.S. states, cities and counties (2). Comparing DC to other states reveals that DC has the highest income inequality in the nation. DC's ratio of the top fifth to bottom fifth of average income of families with children is 28.2 to 1, compared to the U.S. ratio of 12.7 to 1. Parallel to the decline in DC's life expectancy is the increase in economic inequality. The bottom fifth of families with children lost 27% of their income from 1978-80 to 1994-96, while the top fifth gained 56% (3).

Drastic budget and staff cuts have occurred in public health in DC in the last few years (2). Since 1994, over $100 million/year in hurtful budget cuts have been forced by DC government and Control Board and more cuts were included in the 1999 "consensus" budget, in spite of an announced $450 million budget surplus for fiscal year 1998!

There are two ongoing wars in the District, the war against democracy and the war of corporate interests against the poor and "middle class".

The assault on what was left of Home Rule told the world that residents of the capital of the United States have no right to elect leadership with powers comparable to that of any jurisdiction in the U.S. Federalization of our prison and criminal justice system continues to treat us as colonial subjects. The budgetary "relief" provided by the Congressional Plan signed by Clinton in 1997 has not restored funding for essential programs cut out of DC's budget by the Control Board. Our obligated but inadequate federal payment is now gone. The partial restoration of Home Rule under our new Mayor is a signal that the corporate elite and its servants in Congress trust the former CFO to follow their agenda.


(1) Doug Struck and Hamil R. Harris, "Death in the City", Washington Post 6/29/98; David Brown and Avram Goldstein, "Death Knocks Sooner for D.C.'s Black Men", Washington Post 12/4/97. Life Expectancies computed from 1995 data.
(2) James Lardner, "Deadly Disparities", Washington Post 8/16/98.
(3) New York Times 12/17/97; K. Larin and E. McNichol, Pulling Apart, Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, 12/16/97.
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Impact of the Budget Cuts on health in DC is shocking, with the "misery index" increasing:

We have been subject to budget cuts with ferocious impacts on our children and youth, the poor, elderly, disabled, and city workers. Since 1994, over $100 million/year in hurtful budget cuts have been forced by DC government and Control Board and more cuts are included in the 2000 "consensus" budget arrived at behind closed doors by the Control Board, City Council and Mayor. Combined with the implementation of the national welfare law, these budget cuts will have very serious consequences for DC's children. Cuts in AFDC (now TANF) benefits began in the fall of 1994 with the Council's 10 to 1 rejection of a cost of living increase in spite of the fact that the benefit level at the time was below the poverty limit. Maximum welfare benefits had by 1996 declined 46% from 1970, adjusted for inflation (4). So what did the Council do, under the pressure of the Control Board? Cut the benefit level even further (three times in 7 months)! This drop in income security for the poor, and the institution of workfare is bound to pull down the wages of low and middle income workers. The new welfare rules will drive down wages for lowest paid workers by 12% nationally (5).

Other cuts have resulted in reduction of shelter capacity for families, subsidized child care slots, drug treatment, closure of public health clinics and recreation centers and elimination of the chore aide program for seniors and disabled. The cuts in TAP (Tenants Assistance Program) will affect nearly 3000 people. The list of hurtful budget cuts goes on and on. One of the cruelest was the elimination of emergency assistance for rent, mortgage, utility and furniture payments for families at the edge of eviction. Totally unacceptable cuts have been made in the budget for the University of the District of Columbia resulting in loss of faculty, staff and decline in quality of academic programs. In DC public schools, teachers and staff in "expendable" areas as sports, music and art education have been fired. The Control Board has forced anti-educational policies on our school system, bypassing our elected School Board. Municipal workers are losing their benefits or being fired with no provision for retraining or job placement. Once unemployed, these individuals find that the maximum unemployment benefit has been cut even though the fund is perfectly solvent. Now the Control Board has recommended further cuts in workmen compensation and unemployment benefits. The elimination of rent control is on the agenda of the Control Board. An example of misplaced priorities: The Control Board commissioned the anti-rent control Holland Knight report for $800,000 while the chore aid program for seniors and disabled, costing $500,000 was cut out the budget!


(1) A minimum of 39% of our children are living in poverty because the TANF benefit with entitlements is below the federal poverty level (the figure may well be as high as 60% if children in low income families not receiving welfare are included; data for May 1999, DC Action for Children). The State of America's Children, Children's Defense Fund Yearbook, 1999; Kids Count Data Book, 1999; What's In It For Kids, DC Action for Children, 4/15/98.
(2) Cathy L. Schneider, "Racism, Drug Policy, and AIDS", Political Science Quarterley 113, No.3, Fall 1998, p.427-46. Summarized in Washington Peaceletter, June 1998, article included in this pamphlet.
(3) DC Department of Health; figure does not apparently include tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants.
(4) P.T. Kilborn, New York Times, 12/8/96.
(5) The Economic Policy Institute.

[To see how the many professional organizations analyze these problems go to: Poverty or to see how AFDC and TANF were viewed around the country go to "How to Save Money and Get Rid of Poor Kids" . Check out TANF around the country at: TANF applied and in DC the mayor reported in "Report and Recommendations for Welfare Reform in the District of Columbia." In 1997, Liz Seaton of the Whitman-Walker Legal Services anticipated the problems in "Recent Developments / On the Horizon Public Benefits."]

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On welfare and the war on the poor

"The ruling class has kept working poor and welfare recipients divided by focusing welfare policy on the alleged behavioral defects of welfare recipients. Rather than debating welfare reform in terms of socio-economic conditions that force people to welfare, mainstream and conservative policy makers vilify recipients and blame their welfare dependency on laziness, irresponsibility and stupidity. To the extent that working people buy into these stereotypical myths about recipients, they will never see themselves as having the same interests, despite the fact that many are only a paycheck away from homelessness themselves... Welfare doesn't regulate the morality of the poor; it is a labor market institution. It has a systemic impact, and the moral issues have only to do with the fairness of the choices that women are facing, and not with whether these women are moral! Public assistance creates a floor under working wages... The lower the floor for income protection programs, the lower our wages... We need to win back the social safety net programs and make them better... Unions need to organize workfare workers."

Remarks by Frances Fox Piven, 9/27/97. Piven is the author of Regulating the Poor, and Poor People's Movements.
[To see how this subject is viewed around the country, go to Regulating.]

Summary of hurtful budget cuts:

Violations of Human Rights in the District

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in particular, articles 23, 25 and 26 outline each person's right to housing, food, education, health care and a job at a living wage. For example, Article 25 states: "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself [herself] and his [her] family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care and necessary social services...".

Recent federal and state welfare reforms violate these economic and social human rights.

The U.S. government, its instrument the Control Board with the acquiescence of DC government now stand in clear contempt of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (signed by U.S. on 2/16/95; the U.S. along with Somalia are the only nations in the world which have still not ratified this Convention!) (1).

This Convention asserts the following:

"The child has a right to the highest standard of health and medical care attainable. States shall place special emphasis on the provision of primary and preventive health care, public health education and the reduction of infant mortality...Every child has a right to a standard of living adequate for his or her physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.. The child has a right to leisure, play and participation in cultural and artistic activities."

All of these rights have been systematically violated as a result of DC budget cutting and implementation of the national welfare reform.

In 1996, the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations issued General Comment 25, which held that the status of the residents of the District to be a flagrant violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (2). The U.S., along with 136 nations ratified this Covenant. The lack of full congressional representation of DC residents and continued erosion of home rule are direct violations of the Covenant's Article 25 which guarantees the right of every citizen to participate in national and local government through elected representatives. It holds that every citizen has the right to "take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives", to vote and to be elected by "universal and equal suffrage" and to have access to public service on "general terms of equality". Finally, the threatened reimposition of the death penalty in DC by Congress is contrary to internationally recognized standards of human rights. Two suits that challenge the denial of our political rights are now being considered by the US District Court for the District of Columbia.

The violations of these human rights are objectively and profoundly racist since its worst effects are borne by African Americans, Latinos and other people of color, first of all children, but the rights of all DC residents are being violated. It is high time to make these violations an international issue by exposing the hypocrisy of Clinton and the State Department, who preach human rights to everyone else on the globe! Return to top

Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender People (LGBT), those living with HIV/AIDS

Here in the District, the local government has enacted laws and policies largely supportive of LGBT equality and programs supporting people living with HIV/AIDS.

Unfortunately, Congress has repeatedly disregarded the democratic rights of DC citizens by overturning favorable pro-LGBT and HIV/AIDS legislation. Congress has repeatedly attacked the LGBT community and those living with HIV/AIDS by:

Update on Initiative 59

David Schwartzman wrote on 9/20/99: If our Mayor and City Council had been our real moral and political leaders, we would have known the results the day after the election after they collectively pushed the count button at the board of election thereby defying the Congressional prohibition and inviting arrest. But alas, Tony Williams is no Julius Hobson, the understatement of the year.

"DRUG BUSTS A federal judge has ruled that the D.C. government could release the results of last November's vote on Initiative 59, the District of Columbia's medical marijuana ballot initiative that was blocked by Congress. 69% of the 110,000 District voters approved the measure -- a figure that matches the results of an exit poll conducted on the day of the election. The vote results were blocked last October when Congress approved the FY 1999 appropriations bill for the city with language that banned the D.C. government from spending any money on holding or tabulating a voter initiative that could lower penalties for marijuana. Since the D.C. board of elections had already printed the ballots with Initiative 59 on them, the election proceeded, but the government could not tabulate the results. Initiative 59 would allow people to cultivate, possess, use, and distribute marijuana with a physician's permission in the treatment of serious illness."
UNDERNEWS by Sam Smith, September 20, 1999

Human Rights of Immigrants

All DC residents and workers should stand up for the human rights of immigrants, undocumented and "legal". Under current law many present immigrants remain ineligible for basic health care, nutrition (such as food stamps) and other programs supported by their own tax dollars. Those most deeply affected include children and their families, elderly and disabled (National Council of La Raza, 785-1670). Undocumented immigrants live in constant fear of being arrested and deported. Anti-immigrant prejudice only fosters divisions in the community that weaken the struggle for basic human rights for all. Demand the full safety net and protection for immigrants!

(1) Now apparently even Somalia has ratified this Convention.
(2) See Timothy Cooper's article in Legal Times, 5/26/97.
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Criminal (In)Justice System

By Steve Donkin

The 1997 DC Revitalization Act, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton of that year, included provisions for the federal takeover of DC's criminal justice system. The agreement which our local officials (including Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton) enthusiastically entered into with Congress mandates that the penitentiary at Lorton, VA, where most of DC's convicted felons have resided, be closed by the end of 2001. It also mandates that at least fifty percent of DC's felons be housed in a privately run prison by the year 2003. Finally, it mandates that DC begin the process of bringing DC's sentencing guidelines up to federal "truth-in-sentencing" standards. Taken as a whole, these provisions will result in maintaining more people behind bars for longer periods of time in order to feed the emerging private incarceration business. Not only is this an inefficient and costly manner in which to run our criminal justice system, it is unjust and serves only to promote private profit, not the rehabilitation of errants. Coupled with a dwindling commitment of resources to the the most basic of social programs - which are also the best anti-crime programs (education, housing, employment, recreation) - the current incarceration frenzy is an outrage.

The Ward 8 Coalition has been fighting the proposed private prison at Oxon Cove on a number of fronts. This proposal is a giveaway of public parkland , to a private prison company with one of the worst records of disregard for inmate and community welfare in the business. Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) already runs many of the facilities around the country where DC felons from Lorton have been transferred, including the infamous Northeast Ohio Facility at Youngstown. This facility has had dozens of inmate-on-inmate assaults (including two murders), assaults on inmates by guards, including tear gas and pepper spray attacks, several other inmate deaths from poor health care, and inmate escapes. Inmates must pay outrageous phone rates to call loved ones, and visitors have complained of rude treatment by employees upon their arrival. CCA also runs DC's current Correctional Treatment Facility, where complaints of overly restrictive visitation rights have become common as well. These are just a few examples of the results that are to be expected when the societal obligation of rehabilitating errants is handed over to profit-driven corporations. Congress and DC's own legislators have been complicit in promoting this scenario, and it will only get worse as more and more people are incarcerated, and especially as the tough-on-crime crowd increasingly targets juveniles, the poor, people of color, and persons with chemical addictions.

The major vehicle by which the sentencing changes will drive this process is the newly formed Sentencing Advisory Commission, which is charged with implementing federal "truth-in-sentencing" standards in DC. The result of this process will be to abolish parole for many felonies, remove judicial discretion in setting sentences, requiring that at least 85% of sentences be served before parole is even considered, and possibly imposing mandatory minimum sentences that judges must abide by in sentencing felons. The Commission's report is due to come out in draft form in Fall of 1999, and in final form in Spring of 2000. With sentencing laws revised, and the profit motive driving the duties of incarceration and rehabilitation, DC will find its criminal justice system drastically changed, and for the worse.

(Note: For a national perspective, see "United States of America Rights for All", Amnesty International, 1998, a comprehensive survey of human rights violations including police brutality, needless brutality in prisons and jails, the death penalty and abuse of asylum-seekers)

(end of Steve Donkin's piece)
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Environmental Dimensions

The residents of the District face a multitude of environmental assaults with adverse impacts on health and well-being, with children bearing the greatest burden. Fulfillment of human rights and environmental justice are inseparable. Three aspects are highlighted in this section: air pollution, lead poisoning and degradation of the Anacostia, each with disproportionate impact on people of color living in our community. A good source on pollution sources in the District is "Our Unfair Share", June 1994 (National Wildlife Federation).

Air Pollution

The high use of motor vehicles in the District, with nearly a million entering every weekday, results in the largest source of air pollution in the area. Hundreds to thousands of tons of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides are emitted every day (Metro Washington Council of Governments data). As a result a noxious mixture is generated, photochemical smog, which is highly irritating to lung tissue, aggravating chronic lung diseases such as asthma, with children under 10 years of age and the elderly especially affected. Ozone levels have commonly exceeded EPA limits. The District has a higher per capita cancer risk in its air than any of the 50 states according to the Environmental Defense Fund (Takoma Voice, May 1999).

Some ideas for solutions:

We can keep DC cleaner and relieve congestion by expanding public transportation, especially the bus system. Too many neighborhoods require several transfers in order to visit downtown and other employment areas - let's increase and add routes, both longer and shorter. Let's also consider energy-efficient trolleys. The subway has traditionally served the suburbs, while DC residents use the buses. The Metrobus should remain the property of DC citizens and should enjoy the special protection of City Council. Under no circumstance would we support privatizing Metrobus.

We would especially discourage commuter parking at DC Metro stations and near-DC suburban stations. We don't need a parking glut; we don't need a landscape blighted by parking lots and garages. We should replicate and implement Maryland's automobile fuel efficiency tax/rebate (the "Feebate") for all cars purchased (in the District) by District residents. (from Scott McLarty's Ward 1 platform, 2/98)
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Lead Poisoning

Lead is an insidious poison affecting the nervous system and even the ability to concentrate and learn. High levels in the body can cause coma, convulsions and death. Children are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning because of their hand-to-mouth activity and developing nervous system. The level in the blood considered toxic has been steadily reduced by the Centers for Disease Control as new scientific evidence has been accumulated. Now 10 micrograms per deciliter is the threshold for toxicity. The main sources of lead in the present urban environment are old lead paint flaking off walls, windowsills and buildings, lead residues in urban soil, lead in water that has passed through lead and soldered copper pipes, and in food. African American children in urban areas have a significantly higher prevalence of lead toxicity than white children. Unfortunately, there are no reliable statistics presently available on the prevalence of lead toxicity in the District. Lead is not "biodegradable". Although leaded gasoline has been banned for a decade, lead residues in urban soil from prior leaded gasoline emissions (and exterior paint) are a significant source for ultimate ingestion from food grown in urban gardens and by hand-to-mouth activity. These urban soils should be treated as toxic waste, to be replaced by lead-free, humus-rich soil suitable for urban gardening. The District needs to invest in replacing the lead pipes in our water supply.
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Degradation of the Anacostia

The Anacostia River is the most polluted waterway in the District. It is of course runs by the lowest income wards of the city. Urban water runoff carrying silt and toxics including heavy metals and hydrocarbons has the greatest impact on the water quality of the Anacostia. The Anacostia also frequently receives raw sewage from combined sewer overflows during storms. The pollution of the Anacostia remains a serious threat to public health (don't eat fish caught in the Anacostia!).
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Why is there a Control Board?

The Control Board, which exercises immense powers over our budget and school system, was put in by Congress on the pretext of eliminating a large budget deficit. But the real agenda of this unelected body has been to lubricate the wheels of finance capital, by promoting privatization, weakening income security for workers and the poor, increasing economic inequality and the "misery index".

The rich grow richer, the poor (and increasingly the "middle class") grow poorer. Instead of "trickle down" economics, we have witnessed an "artesian well" flow of wealth to the top. This is demonstrated by IRS statistics for District tax payers, showing the booming incomes of the wealthy, while low/middle income brackets stagnate or decline (see graphs at end of this pamphlet).

This restructuring of the political economy of the Metro DC area is in sync with neoliberal policies of big capital globally (see Greider's "One World, Ready or Not"); growing polarization of rich and poor. Neoliberalism is the theory that the market should be left to function without burdensome regulation. Pierre Bourdieu called it a "programme for destroying collective structures which may impede the pure market logic" (1). These "collective structures" have included the social safety net, environmental and occupational protection, labor rights etc. The World Bank and IMF have led the way in transforming the global economy following the neoliberal agenda.

It is no accident that the World Bank is a sponsor of the Economic Resurgence plan for the District, that a World Bank economist (Darius Mans; see his profile later in the pamphlet) now sits on the Control Board.

Tony Williams, our newly elected mayor, was the Chief Financial Officer ("CFO") of the unelected Control Board. As CFO he recommended the hurtful budget cuts described above, with the general compliance of our elected District government. Our mainstream media, projected this new arrival to DC, with significant financial backing by individuals and organizations associated with regional corporate interests, into the Mayor's office. The demoralized and unorganized low income electorate voter turnout was very low, contributing to Williams' victory. If the turnout in Wards 7 and 8 matched that of 1994, Chavous could have beat Williams in the Democratic Primary.

Nevertheless, our Mayor and City Council do have more legitimacy than our unelected Control Board, and should be held accountable to their promises. For example, in his inaugural address, Williams promised to "mend the safety net". "With the city in better financial shape, Williams said he hopes to begin rebuilding the social services network for children, seniors and the poor that was devastated by hefty budget cuts in recent years. 'All of them took a huge cut as we made the policy choices... to get us out of the financial predicament we faced", Williams said." (2). This was our Mayor's clearest acknowledgement yet of hurtful budget cuts he was instrumental in implementing as CFO. As we shall see shortly, these promises remain largely unfulfilled.


(1) "Utopia of endless exploitation", Le Monde Diplomatique 12/98.
(2) Washington Post, 2/9/99
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Was Marion Barry the real problem?

Sam Smith pointed out:

"In fact, Barry actually reduced the long term deficit in the 1980s. With the election of the far less competent Sharon Pratt Kelly (who squeaked in thanks to the heavy backing of the Post) and with a national economic deterioration, this improvement was dramatically reversed. Not only did revenues falter but a significant number of DC residents slipped into poverty, adding greatly to social welfare costs, again factors ignored by the media and Congress. Further, about two thirds of the DC's financial problems were on the revenue side. In 1990 the Commission on Budget and Financial Priorities, chaired by now White House budget director Alice Rivlin [now Chair of the Control Board], cited a number of these problems:

-- In granting "home rule" the federal government left the city with an unfunded pension liability of over $5 billion [now the federal government has raided the pension fund].

-- It similarly left the city with an accumulated deficit of over $300 million.

-- The federal payment for services provided by the city and for land removed from the tax rolls had declined from over 35% of total DC revenues in the first year of home rule to just over 15% in 1990.

-- "With home rule, the federal government imposed significant financial responsibilities

-- the accumulated operating deficit, the unfunded pension liability

-- on the District government. Congress did not provide adequate funding to meet those responsibilities. Congress in fact impaired the District's ability to raise revenues by restricting the District's taxing authority.

These restrictions included everything from hundreds of millions of dollars lost annually because Congress won't let the city tax suburban commuters, $300 million because it exempted Fannie Mae's headquarters from local taxes, and $70million because military and diplomatic personnel don't have to pay local sales tax. If you add these all up, and then throw in a fair federal payment for services rendered and taxable land preempted, you come up with an annual revenue loss twice the size of the current city deficit. In other words, without congressionally Imposed limitations, DC would be showing a surplus. Congress, however, has never taken responsibility for its role in the city's problems even though it approved every line of every budget for which it is now excoriating Barry and the city council. It refuses to set DC free yet ducks blame for what happens as a result. In creating the new authority, Congress once again has created a wall to hide behind as it bashes the city it loves to hate."

(Source: Who killed DC, May 1995, Progressive Review)
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So, why was there a deficit in DC's budget ?

Two main reasons:

1) NOT BEING A STATE, without Congressional approval, DC cannot:

* Tax income earned in DC by non-residents (a reciprocal tax of 2% would give about $500 million per year.

* Receive full compensation for services provided by the federal government and the non-taxability of federal property. Now the federal payment is gone altogether. A fair federal payment should be at least $1.9 billion/year (1).

2) The lack of financial accountability of DC government.

The Washington Post claimed to have documented savings of some $300 million a year (2). This analysis should be looked at critically, but clearly "something is rotten" in conducting business as usual! Whose fault is it? We elected our Mayor and Council, but with few exceptions, big corporate campaign donations and corrupt contracting have insured their election and reelection. As a result the Board of Trade and Federal City Council has generally set the agenda for DC and our one party system of government. Has the Control Board cleaned up the mess? Hardly. Note their record of cost overruns, delayed procurements, wasteful duplication of previous studies and Becton's school management fiasco. Under the Control Board watch, vendors still wait to be paid by DC government (3).


(1) Appleseed Foundation.
(2) 7/20/97
(3) Washington Post, 1/30/99.
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What should be our budgetary priorities?

The DC budget for fiscal year 1998 had a reported $450 million dollar surplus as a result of the recent economic "boom", hurtful budget cuts and the final annual federal payment of some $200 million(1). It is a crime against DC's children, the poor and elderly that this surplus was generated, instead of restoring the safety net eroded by past budget cuts. Future surpluses, now projected to be hundreds of millions of dollars yearly (2), should be used to restore and increase the safety net, providing income and health security for low income people, restoring benefits to city workers, not giving tax breaks to the wealthy

* Number one, our children's well being: No balancing the budget on the backs of children and the poor!

* Rollback all hurtful budget cuts affecting children, the poor, the elderly, disabled and our University, UDC

* Stimulate economic development that will provide long term employment at livable wages for financial security of families and individuals (for example, promote community banking, land trusts, investment in energy conservation, solarization)

* Stop privatization giveaways of public property and resources

* Stop subcontracting out to non-union firms that also do not hire DC residents

Economic development has centered on big projects such as the Convention Center and MCI that mainly benefit corporate investors such as Abe Polin without employing significant numbers of DC residents at living wages. Unfortunately, more of the same is projected in "Economic Resurgence of Washington DC: Citizens Plan for Prosperity in the 21st Century" (available thru An excellent in-depth analysis is Scott McLarty's "Domino Development.." (518-5624 or


(1) Washington Post 2/3/99
(2) Washington Post 3/8/98; however the projected tax cuts may well significantly reduce these surpluses (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities).
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How should our budgetary priorities be funded?

Under the Home Rule Charter we still can revise our tax code:

Local taxes are worse than "flat". In 1995, the lowest fifth and middle income families paid 9.5 to 10.5% of their income, while the richest (average $1.8 million family income) paid 9.3%. With the federal deduction offset included the richest paid 6.4% (1). While the federal deduction mainly benefits middle and upper income brackets (since these taxpayers are more likely to itemize their deductions) it does have the virtue of returning income to District taxpayers. A higher DC income tax rate on the wealthy would capture more revenue for the District since only about one half of our federal taxes is returned to the District. Our local tax structure has become even more regressive, favoring the wealthy. In 1998, those families making less than $30,000 paid 13.2% of their income in local taxes, while those above $200,000 (average income $608,000) paid 9.6% (2). At a Campaign for New Community forum in July, 1998, the Chief Management Officer Camille Barnett was asked about the District's pulling back on the use of DC dollars for programs for people in need, such as shelter and the Tenant Assistance Program (TAP). Ms. Barnett explained that she favored the use of federal dollars for these purposes, as there was "no local tax base to support them." (3). No local tax base indeed! How about the $5 billion or more of taxable income of those DC taxpayers making over $100,000/year (adjusted gross income, projection from latest data from IRS, 1997)? The latter figure does not of course include those declaring residence in Delaware, while actually living in the District. What Ms. Barnett was apparently saying: the wealthy as a class do not support raising taxes on themselves and will do everything possible to prevent that outcome. This is our political challenge. We can make our tax system more progressive by providing:

[Home Rule Charter as proposed in 1996 , The DC Council's view in 1997 and DC Watch's 1998 Assesment - (takes a minute to download, but worth it)]

Where Your Federal Income Tax Money Really Goes!

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Tax relief for low and middle income residents, tax relief for small business! The Council should repeal of the onerous Arena and Convention Center taxes affecting small businesses. A frequency articulated myth is that DC residents have been "overtaxed" compared to surrounding jurisdictions. While combined state and local tax rates in 1995 were slightly lower in Virginia than in DC and Maryland, DC's rate for the lowest 20% income group (less than $31,000) was 10.5% compared to 10.8% for Maryland. The $111,000 to $567,000 income bracket of DC residents actually paid a slightly lower rate than the corresponding bracket for Maryland. Several states have higher overall local taxes on the wealthy than DC (1). Modest reduction in the Maryland income tax rates has occurred since 1995. Therefore, real tax relief for low and moderate income DC residents should be on the agenda.

Sales taxes are the most regressive component of our local tax burden. We ought to learn from the experience of New York City: lowering the regressive sales taxes for non-luxury goods would surely stimulate the District economy, boosting sales from Maryland and Virginia residents.
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Commercial and residential property tax rates should be raised on the highest assessed property (and/or assess those properties, especially commerical property, at their true market rate, an objective of Initiative 51, passed overwhelmingly by DC voters). SEIU Local 82 [The local page is not working] economists estimated two years ago that a 0.5% increment in the big commercial property tax rate (making it comparable to other major cities) would generate $166 million in revenue a year. Fair assessment alone would provide some $40 million a year in additional revenue. The Council has postponed the implementation of Initiative 51, in line with their craven posture to the Control Board and Board of Trade (the Control Board was considering recommending the nullification of Initiative 51 but apparently for political reasons left the dirty work for the Council). We should demand the immediate implementation of Initiative 51!

"DC's current property tax system is upside-down. It penalizes property owners who maintain or improve their properties by raising their taxes, and reward those who allow their properties to deteriorate with lower taxes. This raises the cost construction and maintenance and discourages community development of housing and jobs. The alternative is a split-rate property tax, which reverses this backward form of taxation by allowing the District to tax building values at lower rates than land values. The tax divides a piece of property into two parts: value of the land and value of the buildings on that land. It then reduces the tax on buildings and increases the tax on land. If implemented correctly... it redistributes the tax burden to ensure that those who maintain their properties pay less tax than those who do not." (4).
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Higher taxes for the wealthy, those most able to pay!

In 1997, those filling federal tax returns with adjusted gross incomes over $100,000 had a taxable income of $4.4 billion, those over $200,000, $3.0 billion! For the high income brackets, the taxable income/return increased significantly from 1989 to 1997, while for those under $30,000 the taxable income/return actually declining for the same years. From 1995 to 1997, the taxable income for the greater than $100,000 bracket grew by $1.4 billion. At this rate of growth, a plausible extrapolation given the booming stock market, the taxable income of those DC taxpayers making over $100,000/year will be over $6 billion in 1999, those over $200,000, $5 billion. If those with adjusted gross incomes over $100,000 were taxed an extra 2% this year, $100 million a year in revenue would roll in (5). (Please see the graphs illustrating these points at the end of the pamphlet)

To summarize, a fair tax package that would give real tax relief to low/middle income people and restore/expand the gutted safety net includes the following provisions:

1) Exempt the $20K and under bracket from DC income taxes.
2) Lower sales taxes on non-luxury goods (clothing, household supplies etc.)
3) Raise the DC income tax rate on the greater than $100K bracket a few percent. As a first step, base the DC income tax rate as a flat percentage of the federal income tax (more progressive than the present DC income tax structure) and adjust this percentage to insure sustainable revenue.
4) Institute a split-rate property tax with provisions to guarantee progressivity.

Rather than the so-called "tough love" for the poor (equals callous indifference) we need tough love for the wealthy, sharing the wealth to meet human needs in the District. Luxury spending is booming in the Metro DC area. Is another European vacation or Lexus this year really worth children going hungry, the poor not receiving health care, our youth not getting the higher education they deserve? It is no accident that the United States has the greatest gap between rich and poor families and the highest child poverty rate of practically all industrialized countries (WP 3/29/97). The "dirty little secret" of economics is that concentration of wealth at the top leads to poverty and misery at the bottom.

It is evident that a significant fraction of the $450 million budget "surplus" for fiscal year 1998 exists because of hurtful budget cuts in services for our children, poor, elderly and disabled. We have been told these cuts were unavoidable to balance the budget. But consider this. In 1997, DC residents making over $100,000 had a taxable income of $4.4 billion and this does not include income of tax cheaters who fraudulently claim residence outside the District, estimated by the deputy CFO to be $100-200 million/year, which includes uncollected business taxes (6). A mere 2% increase in taxation of their income would generate $100 million in revenue! (And they would get back a portion in the federal deduction offset). This would insure both real tax relief for low/middle income residents and the guarantee of increased revenues to restore and expand our safety net. The only way to do both is to modestly raise the tax rates on the wealthy, who have been steadily moving into the District in the last decade, despite the lower tax rates of suburban Maryland and especially Virginia DC taxpayers in the greater than $100,000 bracket increased from 12,000 to 20,000 in the last decade (5). The more affluent have been moving into the District for the last decade, buying houses, while low income renters have been moving out (7).

It is absurd to argue that wealthy DC residents will leave the District if they are required to pay slightly higher rates, given the advantages of living here, namely lower commuting costs and time, cultural opportunities etc. Commuting time and costs will increase in the next decade (7). Who will buy their high-priced homes if they move? And if a small number do move, lets encourage the conversion of these large homes to apartments. Lower tax rates on low/middle income residents will in contrast encourage them to move back into the District, reversing the trend of the last decade. Reducing the income gap and "misery index" in the District would benefit the wealthy as well as everyone else by reducing crime, stimulating consumer spending and reducing class/racial polarization.

And if the wealthy don't like the idea of paying higher taxes, they should join in and lobby for the long-term solutions to our budgetary crisis, our crisis in meeting basic human needs, requiring Acts of Congress, which include the following:

a) a fair federal payment for nontaxable property and services provided by the District, roughly 3 times the payment of $660 million per year made prior to the passage of the Economic and Tax Incentive Package

b) a reciprocal income tax with surrounding jurisdictions (a 2% tax on non-resident income would bring in $500 million per year). A reciprocal income tax should be structured to be progressive, without penalizing low and moderate income workers living in Maryland and Virginia, who would then pay their state income taxes to DC only.

c) Payments in Lieu of Taxes ("PILOTS") from federally-chartered tax exempts (Sallie Mae, National Geographic etc.) would bring in some $150 million per year

d) Making Fannie Mae pay income tax ($300 million per year)

e) Statehood, democracy, not dictatorship by the Control Board Junta. The Clinton's Economic and Tax Incentive Package and proposals such as the Norton "progressive" flat tax are seductive non-solutions to our crisis which combine long discredited "trick-down" economics with continued neo-colonial status for the District. Only real self determination in the form of statehood and sharing the wealth of our community can measure up to the needs of our people (8).


(1) Citizens for Tax Justice
(2) Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy
(3) Patricia Fugere, Homefront 9,10/98, Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless
(4) Jennifer Thangavelu, Washington Regional Network for Livable Communities, see April 1999, Washington Peace Letter)
(5) Internal Revenue Service, Statistics of Income Bulletin
(6) Washington Post, 1/29/99(7) Washington Post, 3/3/97, 3/27/97
(8) Sam Jordan, Washington Peace Letter April 1997.

We can of course also improve management, eliminate waste and inefficiency in DC government. But only an elected body not beholden to corporate interests can accomplish these objectives!
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How do we get democratic self-rule and financial accountability of our government?

Resist the Junta, the anti-democratic Control Board and its instruments
Re-energize the movement for DC statehood
Open up our political system so that low and middle income residents are represented. Get the big money out of politics. This means campaign reform. The answer is more democracy, not less!
Mobilize for a humane budget, a just tax system and sustainable economic development
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We all now face a critical choice in our future

Do we want a community with the continued erosion of quality of life for all, but particularly for our children, or do we want a diverse and united New Columbia that insures meeting basic human needs?

While recognizing the reality of dictatorial powers of the Control Board, we should not accept the legitimacy of this anti-democratic "Junta" which has imposed devastating budget cuts impacting on children, the poor, elderly, the disabled, municipal workers and our university UDC. We should resist its authority and its instruments by both mass mobilization and legal challenge, by organizing a progressive political movement and majority coalition independent of the Democratic and Republican Party machinery. The budget deficit has been used to explain the necessity of these hurtful budget cuts. Since the imposition of the Control Board, our elected officials have told us there is no alternative to voting for these budget cuts since we must balance the budget under Control Board legislation. However, we have been "sold a bill of goods". The Council and Mayor have consistently maintained that their "hands are tied". This is only true if our elected leadership continues to submit to the Control Board dictatorship, the "junta" - the alternative is resistance, with our elected officials, including our delegate to Congress giving moral and political leadership.

The Mayor/City Council can send forward its own recommended budget to Congress, restoring funding to essential programs for children, the poor, elderly, disabled, and our youth (e.g., the University of the District of Columbia), while balancing the budget, a requirement of the Control Board legislation if this body is to be eliminated after 4 years of balanced budgets. Of course, until the District achieves statehood, all legislation is subject to Congressional review. But here is where real leadership from a future Delegate to Congress and progressive City Council and Mayor comes in, building a broad coalition of labor, child advocates, churches and their allies, a coalition that could mobilize militant direct action, "lighting a fire" under the Control Board and Congress. The offices of our elected officials should be organizing centers for this activity! Every lever available under the Home Rule Charter should be used in the struggle for achieving human rights in the District. There is no excuse for our elected officials to stand paralyzed and compliant before the authority of the Control Board and Congress.

We should fight for a more progressive DC tax system, tapping the more than adequate resources of our most affluent residents, that provides the necessary revenue to roll back hurtful budget cuts and guarantee a real safety net for our residents while promoting sustainable economic development that creates long-term employment. We should fight for a fair and obligated federal payment, and a progressive reciprocal commuter tax that will promote the same objectives. While voting representation in Congress is long overdue, only statehood will permit the District to control its own budget. Until these measures needing acts of Congress are implemented, simple justice demands higher District taxes on the wealthy to guarantee provision of the necessary revenue to meet basic human needs. Fulfilling this agenda will make our community more liveable for all our residents whatever their income or neighborhood. Only a lot more political education and organizing from the grassroots can make these goals a reality.

Tough Love for the Rich: Make them pay their fair share of DC Taxes! Living Wage or Living Income! Don't Balance the Budget on the Backs of the Poor! Strengthen Rent Control, don't phase it out! No Prison-for-Profit, Invest in People, not Prisons! Schools, not Jails!

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Reaganomics reborn: another budget on the backs on the poor

6/11/99 (updated)

The Mayor, Council and Control Board have agreed on a consensus budget to be sent to Congress. A dramatic new element in this legislative package is a tax cut plan for residents and businesses. This is a scaled down version of The Tax Parity Act of 1999, proposed by Evans and 8 other Council members, which was opposed by Jim Graham and Phil Mendelson. A broad coalition including child advocates and the Metro DC Labor Council joined in opposition to the original Council bill. Nevertheless, the new "compromise" legislation will quite likely reduce badly needed revenue for social services, especially if the Metro area economy cools off in the next 3 years. There is no evidence that these tax cuts will attract a bigger tax base (Tax Revision Commission, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities). And no surprise, it will give most of the income tax benefit to the wealthy. Cuts in business taxes will continue the policy of not including any criteria that progressives have been pushing, namely paying a living wage, employing DC residents, environmental sustainability, etc. This is yet another dose of Reaganomics from our Council.

Meanwhile, the proposed budget for FY 2000 fails to restore most of the catastrophic cuts in the District's "safety net" made in the last few years, forced by the austerity regime of the Control Board with the unfortunate compliance of the City Council and Mayor. Now the District budget surplus for fiscal year 1998 has grown to some $450 million. According to the Washington Post (2/9/99), "With the city in better financial shape, Williams said he hopes to begin rebuilding the social services network for children, seniors and the poor that was devastated by hefty budget cuts in recent years. 'All of them took a huge cut as we made the policy choices... to get us out of the financial predicament we faced", Williams said." This was our Mayor's clearest acknowledgment yet of hurtful budget cuts he was instrumental in implementing as CFO.

Our Mayor's promise is largely unkept. After intensive lobbying by the Fair Budget Coalition and its constituent organizations such as DC Action for Children a few modest victories were won. Shelter services were funded at $17 million. Youth services (Children and Youth Initiative) funded at $15 million for FY 2000 only, rather than the $33 million proposed by the Mayor. This reduction is an immediate result of the budget compromise imposed by anticipated revenue shortfalls from the tax cuts. The Tobacco settlement funds will be put into a trust, with funding decisions to be made later.

Since 1994, over $100 million/year in hurtful budget cuts have been forced by DC government/Control Board. These cuts in our safety net for our children, poor, disabled and elderly have included reductions in homeless shelter space and drug treatment programs, elimination of emergency assistance and the Tenant Assistance Program. At least 43% of our children are living in poverty because the TANF benefit with entitlements is below the federal poverty level (the figure may well be as high as 60% if children in low income families not receiving welfare are included; data for 1998, DC Action for Children). We all support efforts to bring able-bodied people into the workforce as productive members. While the Mayor has spoken about private-public partnership to facilitate this transition, we have not yet heard a commitment from him or the Council to raise the benefit level of welfare recipients above the poverty level, nor have seen proposals to insure an adequate level of support for their entry into the workforce at a living wage, with full provision of child care and educational opportunities. The District should use the surplus of federal TANF funds to provide this support, as well as take the lead for a regional TANF level above poverty by budgeted local funds as needed.

The Tenants Assistance Program (TAP) should be fully restored and expanded to meet real needs in view of the lack of affordable housing in the District. Restoration of emergency assistance, chore aide for seniors and disabled, and GPA should have been a priority on the Council's agenda, but no funds are budgeted. (Burial assistance is restored. I guess we should be thankful that the poor who die from the multiple effects of poverty will at least get a decent burial!) While we applaud the limited extension of health insurance to presently uninsured (only 3000 will be covered, instead of the 39,000 proposed by the Mayor that was to be financed by drastic cuts in the budget of DC General Hospital and public health clinics), expanded reliance on HMOs is a frightening prospect given their chronic delays in service even to middle income people. Moves to privatize services must be judged as evidence of the failure of the Control Board regime to accomplish its stated mission after millions of dollars have been spent to ostensibly improve efficiency of municipal services, while $22 million was lost in federal grants in 1998 (WP, 3/17/99). Note for example $800,000 spent on a study recommending the end of rent control. Meanwhile, our children suffer because of the layoffs of school custodians and repair workers. The apparent riffing of 300 more municipal workers in the proposed budget should be revoked and the school personnel should be rehired.
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Present Tax Structure Regressive!

Our present local tax structure is regressive. While their taxable income has been booming, the wealthy continue to pay a smaller percentage of their income in local taxes than do low and middle income brackets (the lowest fiifth and middle income families pay about 10%, while the richest, averaging $1.8 million family income, 6.4% in 1995, with the federal deduction offset included; more recent data indicate even greater regressivity (Citizens for Tax Justice and Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy Studies).

The proposed tax cut legislation will continue this pattern of regressivity. It will be implemented in steps over 5 years. To compare impacts, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy computed the tax cuts fully phased-in to 1999. The top 1% , averaging $1.035 million, will get a decrease of 0.9% of their income ($8,820) in their income tax payment, while the lowest 20%, averaging $8,500, will get a 0.6% decrease (a mere $50). The top 20% income bracket (average income greater than $89,300) will get 58% of the total tax cut. The only improvement over the original Council bill is the slightly higher cut going to the middle 20% (averaging $31,900) and fourth 20% (averaging $47,200) brackets who will get back 1.3% ($420) and 1.8% ($860) of their income in tax cuts.
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Note: This pamphlet is a "work in progress". Comments, suggestions for revision and criticism are welcome!

Many activists have contributed to this pamphlet. They include Renee Bowser, Steve Donkin, Peter Farina, Sam Jordan, Scott McLarty, Maya O'Connor, Catherine Sheehy, Tyson Slocum, Michele Tingling-Clemons, Joel Tomlinson

DC Statehood Party: (202) 561-6068
DC Green Party: (202) 546-0940

The Author: David Schwartzman - Tax and Budget Deputy, DC Statehood Party, DC Economic Human Rights Coalition, Metro DC Committee of Correspondence 829-9063,

The Illustrator [of the original pamphlet of this article]: Catherine Sheehy - Coordinating Board member/cartoonist Washington Peace Center 1801 Columbia Road NW Suite 104 Washington DC 20009 234-2000,
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A Profile of Darius Mans, new member of the Control Board (from their Web Page)

Mr. Darius Mans is an Economist with the World Bank in Washington, D.C.  He is the manager for the compensation policy and administration, with lead policy work on compensation and benefit reform at the World Bank.  Mr. Mans extensive experience with the World Bank spans several countries, operating responsibilities, and economic development projects.

For example, he developed strategy, and managed two projects, totaling $800 million, to develop domestic gas transmission and distribution in Indonesia with substantial private investment and private and official co-financing. He has developed and negotiated a $60 million turnaround program for Indonesia's industrial research and development system and helped negotiate, project to market, Papua New Guinea's 980 million barrels of oil, and 24 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves to foreign investors. 

Additionally, as a resident senior country economist in Tanzania, he coordinated a $450 million balance of payment fund that was co-financed by over 10 countries and several foreign exchange financial institutions to support liberalization of the country's trade, foreign exchange management and financial systems, and reform of public enterprises.

Mans also assisted in structuring a $300 million World Bank project to restructure the printing machinery, precision instruments and electronic components industries in Shanghai.  With his assistance, the initial plans to reform and privatize the telecommunications sector in Pakistan, India, Uruguay, Argentina, Columbia, and Ecuador were developed.

Prior to his work with the World Bank, Mr. Mans was an Economist for the Federal Reserve System Board of Governors, where he worked closely with the United States Treasury, and the International Monetary Fund, to establish a framework to avoid debt repudiation and restructure private commercial debt in Brazil and Chile.

He has conducted research on economic growth, been a consultant to Peat Marwick on infrastructure and industry projects to the Government of Jamaica, and consulted on macroeconomic policy and strategic planning.

Mans was an Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of Maryland in College Park and holds a Ph.D. in Economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is a resident of Washington, D.C.

(bold face added)

Can We Afford... (Go to an Update added 11/23/99)
Important DC Initiatives in 2000! (Go to an Update added 1/7/2000)
DC, neoliberalism & the World Bank (Go to an Udate 2/23/2000)
Taxes in DC! (Go to an Update 3/5/2000)
The Emperor has no clothes! (Go to an Update 5/5/2000)

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