Who will you pick for DC Council at-large on April 23?

Question 5

We asked the candidates:

What do you think the District should do with its $417 million surplus?

Here is how you rated the candidates' responses:

Matthew Frumin responded...

This year's surplus raises two important questions:

  1. How much should we save and how much should we invest?
  2. What does it imply for our future budgets?

This is our third major surplus in a row. Its size should give us confidence that our fiscal house is strong, and that it is time to lift the 2010 edict requiring all surplus dollars be used to build the city's reserve. I would urge that half the current surplus go to the reserve and half be used to begin to address some of the city's most pressing needs.

  • Creating more affordable housing, first by bolstering the Housing Production Trust Fund
  • Supporting job training
  • Strengthening our social safety net, particularly serving our homeless
  • Investments in parks, recreation centers, libraries and schools
  • Targeted support for arts projects

Going forward, the CFO should take into account these serial surpluses and present a realistic revenue projection for the coming fiscal year. Then let's end the phase of "eat your spinach" budgeting — it worked and we can move on. We should use our increasing fiscal strength to more fully serve those in the greatest need and make the city a more attractive place to live, work and do business.

Taking into account the upcoming recommendations of the Tax Revision Commission, we should retool our taxes to strengthen our competitive position in the region. We should also consider modifying our approach to the debt cap, which currently constrains infrastructure investment. And while we work to meet the needs listed above, we should finalize new employee contracts, invest to strengthen our local schools and expedite our transportation improvements.

Our third consecutive surplus sends a clear signal that we are more than deserving of budget autonomy and can move to a period of investment designed to strengthen our local economy and grow our tax base. This virtuous cycle will be key to our efforts to advance our city and achieve long-term growth and success. As we do that, let's invest with a strategy to benefit all of our communities. Let's grow together.

Elissa Silverman responded...

I would put half the surplus in the city's savings account and invest half in our city's future, primarily into preserving and building high-quality affordable housing.

My job as council member will be to protect the city's financial health — to ensure we are spending responsibly and investing wisely. The recently announced surplus is left over dollars from Fiscal Year 2012; it could be used for "one-time" purposes but shouldn't be dedicated toward yearly expenses or expenditures that increase the annual budget or baseline. It is wise to save for a rainy day, but we need to use at least some of this money to build a brighter future.

By law the District is obligated to put end-of-year surplus dollars into our savings account, known as the fund balance. But our fund balance is now $1.1 billion dollars — equivalent to nearly 20 percent of our operating balance — one of the largest fund balances in relation to operating revenue in the country. I would support amending this law so that some of this unanticipated money can be put toward critical investments in our city, such as securing D.C.'s supply of affordable housing.

The Housing Production Trust Fund is one of our best tools for developing and preserving affordable units so the District can be a welcome place for residents of varying incomes. The Trust Fund has a track record of success, helping nonprofit developers including So Others Might Eat develop homes in places such as Wards 7 and 8.

I would also support putting funds into other capital needs that might be identified as high priorities by agencies, such as MPD and D.C. Fire and EMS. This pay-as you-go approach saves the city money because we are not paying interest on debt.

Paul Zukerberg responded...

  1. Affordable housing
  2. Help for the neediest
  3. Tax relief for workers and families
  4. Rainy-day reserve fund

It is great to have a surplus. But the same improving economy that created that surplus is causing an affordable housing crisis in DC.

Skyrocketing housing costs take their toll on long-time residents, seniors, young people and growing families. PEPCO, Comcast, and other monopolies price gouge us for essential services. Paul's plan for public-private cooperation will jump-start affordable housing. He will fight to hold the line on utility rate hikes.

With the return of economic growth, we must never forget our neediest — the homeless, returning vets, the children living in poverty. Paul supports a data-driven, evidence-based review to identify and support our most effective social service programs. Find out what is working, then scale it up to meet our responsibilities.

It is an open secret that our tax revenue estimates have been too low. Outgoing CFO Natwar Gandhi has said that our tax surplus is the highest it has been in seven years - and rising. Targeted tax cuts for working men and women, low wage earners, and parents with dependent children will bring revenue back in line with expenditures.

And let's not forget — yes — Wall Street. Standard and Poor's credit rating service grades DC's general obligation bonds A+. It may be the only A+ we've ever earned, so we don't want to jeopardize it. A good credit score means that we pay some of the lowest interest rates on our debt, and our bond offerings are always oversubscribed. That is why we need to put a large chunk of the surplus into our rainy-day fund.

DC Statehood depends on a strong credit rating from Wall Street, so we need to show Congress and the country that we are fiscally responsible. At the same time, we need to work every day to assure that the neediest among are not forgotten.

John Settles responded...

I propose contributing to the rainy day fund, AND investing in the protection of the middle class, while creating pathways out of poverty for low income residents. The latter is critical because the annual expenditures for social services programs currently exceeds the cost of the surplus, and continues to rise. Lower and Middle class individuals, and families are besieged with the high cost of housing, higher tax rates, and overall cost of living. Incentives for the creation of a more diverse and broadly affordable housing stock, investments in targeted 21st century trade, technology, and workforce development programs for at risk youth, underemployed, and unemployed adults has an economic impact 3-4 times the initial investment. Leveraging these funds with creative financing will increase the benefits while also saving future dollars. Creating Public Private partnerships will enhance success. For example offering direct financing, and revenue guarantees for social impact bonds to fund creative programs such as creating green manufacturing facilities east of the river could provide thousands of well paying jobs. The large number of unemployed, illiterate, ex-offenders, and underemployed have created a cycle of poverty that impacts education, public safety, economic development, and quality of life. The Wilson building has allowed some of the greatest waste and failed policies to occur in the area of poverty eradication. If factories can be created in prisons why can't they be brought to the city.

On the other end of the spectrum funding micro financing, and other incentives to attract knowledge based entrepreneurs and businesses will continue the job growth.

At a time when many public buildings are in need of renovation, such as schools, and fire stations, we can't afford to let the problems continue to worsen.

Perry Redd responded...

The thought of a surplus might water the mouths of many, but there are some of us that fear that a continued irresponsibility toward the city's most vulnerable residents may likely occur. It appears that each of the city's departments are fairing well, yet the issue of housing, homelessness and employment are back burner issues of discussion among the city's elected leaders.

I never believe in spending outright an entire surplus. I would propose allocating $200 million of the surplus to the city's reserve fund. This would allow the Mayor to remain consistent with his budget priorities, which in this regard, appear responsible.

The remaining $217 million should be spent among The Housing Production Trust Fund, Homeless Services, enhancing employment and training opportunities for Returning Citizens — especially east of the river — and supportive services for troubled/under-performing DCPS students.

It is also conceivable to use a portion of the surplus as a "tax rebate" for elderly homeowners of the city. Providing cash assistance to homeowners facing foreclosure is a fine way to keep the confidence of city residents. Tax relief for struggling Washingtonians promotes a healthy economy. Those are a few of the economic possibilities I would fund and implement.

I am of the belief that the human needs of Washingtonians must be high on the agenda.even priority, then investment in more creative and technological pursuits of the city should follow, like our proposed Cyber-Inclusion Initiative for internet-challenged areas of the city. Thanks for asking!

Patrick Mara responded...

The announcement that the District has a $417 million budget surplus is sure to inspire many of my fellow candidates and our elected officials to jump on the "Let's Spend It" bandwagon.

I have a different plan. Let's save the money and at the same time begin a serious conversation about lowering taxes and reducing fees.

Spend, spend, spend seems to be the mantra to solving the District's problems. But read the headlines: "Millions Missing," "Politically Connected Contractor Under Investigation," and of course, "Fully Loaded SUV."

We need to start being better stewards of taxpayers' money.

$417 million is a huge surplus. It is time for the District to start budgeting more realistically. When we unnecessarily take money out of taxpayers' pockets, we are unnecessarily burdening the budgets of our residents.

Do we have unmet needs — like libraries and librarians in every public school — yes. Can we do more to lower the cost of housing for our neediest residents? Yes.

But if every time we have a surplus our response is spend, spend, spend, we will never be able to reliably address these and other pressing needs.

The District has ample revenue. The best way to spend any of the $417 million is to pay for a truly independent audit and analysis of government agencies. I'm certain we can find the millions need to fund libraries and affordable housing initiatives, while at the same time discovering that it is possible to lower taxes and fees and other burdens on District residents and business owners.

Michael Brown responded...

As Council-member I successfully advocated for years that any surplus dollars should be shared with the residents that need it the most. Understanding that some of the surplus dollars must go to the fund balance. I would fight for a percentage of those surplus dollars go to restoring the following programs: affordable housing initiatives (I was successful in restoring $50m in affordable housing programs over the last 2 years), job training programs (helped with the reform of DOES) and I would work with my colleagues as well as other stakeholders and advocacy groups to restore other safety-net related programs, that would positively impact our poor residents (TANF), our unemployed, our returning citizens, our seniors and our residents that have jobs that need real affordable/workforce housing as well as programs for our young people and the homeless. All of which I have been a champion/leader on these matters. I'm proud of my legislative record, I have made and will continue to make a positive difference in the lives of our fellow residents. Thank-you.