BY NOAH WEXLER, ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT POLICY BOARD
On September 22nd, members of Roosevelt Institute at GW met with Ed Lazere of the DC Fiscal Policy Institute (DCFPI), a chapter of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities’ State Policy Project. As the Director of DCFPI, Ed researches the effects of the District of Columbia’s (the District) fiscal decisions and advocates for progressive revenue allocation. Ed graciously offered his time to discuss an overview of the District’s fiscal processes and how politics affects and shapes the municipal policy. He also provided his insight into contentious local policies and issues.
Ed began the conversation by explaining the unique complexity of the District’s fiscal policy process. He noted that the District is a political anomaly in the nation; its City Council and Mayor essentially take on otherwise federal, state, and local duties. Furthering this unique situation, Congress has purview over the District’s fiscal allocations. Ed emphasized that up until two years ago, Congress actively reviewed every piece of legislation that went through the District’s City Council. If Congress did not review a bill, it was tacitly approved.
The spectre of federal involvement still looms large in local fiscal processes. The imposition of a Federal Control Board over the District’s allocation process in response to the District’s fiscal crisis in the 1990s created a stigma against spending. Ed explained that the Chief Financial Officer of the District of Columbia consistently pushes for a budgetary surplus because of a fear of fiscal insolvency. The result: the District consistently generates a multi-million dollar surplus year after year, but the money is seldom invested into local initiatives that benefit low-income citizens.
Ed highlighted how this lack of desire to invest fiscally results in effective programs being underfunded. One effective policy that goes underfunded is the District’s housing voucher program, a policy he feels is a politically palatable solution to the District’s affordable housing crisis. According to Ed, providing more vouchers that fund for rent payments in excess of 30% of residents’ income would effectively ensure accessible housing without angering DC’s politically influential development industry. Ed summed up the entire discussion bluntly and poignantly, saying that when it comes to affordable housing and development, so much would be fixed if “DC just put up the money.”
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