Monday, May 14, 2012

DC Tax Rates Hurt Working Poor & Middle Class, also Loss of Federal Payment

As pointed out by several member of the DC Statehood Green Party, we definitely need to consider  additional tax brackets.  The current jump from $40,001 to $250,000 is much too hard on people in with incomes below $100,000.  No tax rate above $250,001 is also unfair to the moderately well off.  As I have pointed out often when I have testified on relevant matters, our government has repeatedly failed to maintain the benefits we had at the time of the Home Rule charter in the early 1970s.

The simplest to understand is failure to index our Deductions and Exemptions on the tax form D-40.  When I checked my old tax forms for 1974, these were roughly comparable for DC and the Federal rates.  While some increases were made in the intervening years, by 1991, DC only allowed about one half the amount allowed by the Federal tax form.  Thereafter, nothing was done to keep up with inflation. 

In 2004 I brought this to Mr. Catania's attention and in 2005 he tried to introduced a bill to "couple" our D & E rates with the Federal 1040 rates.  At that point our D&Es were only about 1/3 the Federal rates, and a couple was still only allowed $2,000, AFTER 30 YEARS!!!  Although his bill failed to make it out of Committee, in 2006 and 2008 some additional increases were made in the DC D&E rates.  These rates continued to be the victim of budget difficulties and are frozen at the already inadequate 2008 rates.  With 4 years of DC income surpluses, and a full rainy day fund, it is time to fix this and other inequities.

The 2011 DC rates for D&Es are $4,000 per couple or single, and $1,650 each.  The Federal figures are $5,800 single and $11,600 per couple for Deductions, and $3,700 Exemption each person.  With "coupling" Taxable Income for a family of four would be $15,800 lower, for a couple $11,700 less, and for singles $3,850 lower. You must ask yourselves if this tax unfairness has helped drive families out of the city.

Actual tax savings for a family of 4 with Adjusted Gross Income of $40,000 using "coupling" would be $948.  A similar family with $60,000 AGI saves $1,183.  A family of 4 with $26,400 AGI currently pays $750, with "coupling" $ ZERO.  One councilmember has proposed cutting taxes about 1/2%.  Using this amount, the hypothetical family of 4 with $26,400 AGI would still pay about $600.

The fairest and most practical taxation strategy would be to introduce "coupling" and make moderate income tax rate increases in the upper bracket(s).  Now that our neighboring states are considering raising taxes on the wealthy, the argument that we will scare away our own rich is a lot less valid, if it ever was.

Another move which seems to have cost us dearly is the deal from around 1996 wherein DC gave up our special Federal payment in exchange for the Federal government taking over some of our functions.  We ended our prison at Lorton, and turned over our prisoners to the Feds and the Prison Industrial Complex.  I was particularly annoyed about this because I had been working on the very GREEN project of restoring food raising there to be used for better nutrition for the prisoners, their families and DC social service agencies. 

 I had researched such successful food raising programs in prisons in 5 other jurisdictions where the benefits were appreciated by all.  When I had visited Lorton as a member of the Mayor's Commission for Food, Nutrition, and Health, I was surprised to see more than 100 acres devoted entirely to GRASS, and not the medical kind.  What a waste.  When I spoke with the prisoners about growing food for their own use, for their families and for social service agencies and schools, they liked the idea.  They did not view it the same as Prison Farms where cotton and other cash crops were grown without benefit to the prisoners and families.

Now I  hear that we are having a hard time getting the Federal government to make promised payments for DC Jail and other programs.  Nevertheless, we still pay 100% Federal taxes even though we only have 40% voting representation. Worse yet, Puerto Rico and Guam pay ZERO% federal income taxes.  Why has no one had the guts to start an escrow account for the other 60% to be held until the Federal government either restores a fair payment for all our untaxable property, or eliminates our taxes as is the case for the nearly 4 million people in Puerto Rico.  

If we paid only 2/5ths Federal tax (2/5ths based on the fact we vote for President and VP, but not for Congressperson and 2 Senators), the increased income for DC residents would result in close to $1 billion extra DC government revenue.  That would solve our budget crises and enable us to lower income taxes.  Establishing such an escrow account could also be used to highlight our lack of STATEHOOD and the resulting unfairness.  The City also needs to look at how much we pay in Federal taxes versus how much we get back in standard Federal payments.  One set of statistics I found at Google suggests that we only get back about 1/2 of what we pay in. At another site it was shown we paid 5 times as much as we get back.   This despite our high number of low income residents needing social services.  The reason I do not propose territorial status as some have done is that territories, including Puerto Rico cannot vote for President and Vice President.  I don't believe in giving up any rights we already have, nor do I wish to forgo benefits we could obtain, while waiting for the "perfection" of statehood.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Harry Thomas Inspired Council Act Reviewed by BOEE

While at the regular meeting of the DC Board of Elections and Ethics on May 8, 2012 to protest their treatment of our DC Statehood Green Party write-in candidates the following occurred.  They were reviewing language sent over by the DC Council regarding expulsion of Councilmembers and Mayors for egregious wrongdoing.

This, no doubt was prompted by the Harry Thomas conviction for stealing from a youth sports program, among other questionable happenings.  Reading between the lines regarding "free speech", there was perhaps also concern about the recent dust up between Councilmembers David Catania and Marion Barry.  I raised a question about the legal language, which resulted in an interesting request of me by the Board Chairwoman, which appears at the end of this post.

Specifically, BOEE was considering the "Board of Ethics and Government Accountability Establishment and Comprehensive Ethics Reform Amendment Act of 2011", including 3 separate proposed Charter Amendments.
                                              - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

     1)  Proposed Charter Amendment V, "The Councilmember Expulsion Resolution Charter Amendment" appears below:

          Section 401 (D.C. Official Code Paragraph 1-204.01) is amended by adding a new subsection (e) to
 read as follows:

"(e)(1)  By a 5/6 vote of its members the Council may adopt a resolution of expulsion if it finds, based on substantial evidence, that a member of the Council took an action that amounts to a gross faillure to meet the highest standards of personal and professional conduct.  Expulsion is the most severe punitive action, serving as a penalty imposed for egregious wrongdoing.  Expulsion results in the removal of the member.  Expulsion should be used in cases in which the Council determines that the violation of law committed by a member is of the most serious nature, including those violations that substantially threaten the public trust.  To protect the exercise of official member duties and the overriding principle of freedom of speech, the Council shall not impose expulsion on any member for the exercise of his or her First Amendment right, no matter how distasteful the expression of that right was to the Council and the District, or in the official exercise of his or her office.

"(2)  The Council shall include in its Rules of Organization procedures for investigation, and consideration of, the expulsion of a member.".

     2)  Proposed Charter Amendment VI, "The Councilmember Felony Disqualification Charter Amendment" appears next:

This Charter Amendment, if passed, would make anyone who is convicted of a felony while holding the Office of Councilmember ineligible to serve on the Council.  The amendment says:

          Section 402 (D.C. Official Code Paragraph 1-204.02) is amended by striking the phrase "to be held; and (d) holds" and inserting the phrase "to be held; (d) has not been convicted of a felony while holding the office; and (e) holds" in its place.

     3)  Proposed Charter Amendment VII, The Mayoral Felony Disqualification Charter Amendment"  is the final proposal:

This Charter Amendment, if passed, would make anyone who is convicted of a felony while holding the office of Mayor ineligible to serve as Mayor.

          Section 421(c)(1) (D.C. Official Code Paragraph 1-204.21(c)(1) is amended by striking the phrase "to be held; and (C) is" and inserting the phrase "to be held; (C) has not been convicted of a felony while holding the office; and (D) is" in its place.
- - - - - - - - - -
Within ten (10) days of the publication of these formulations in the D.C. Register, any registered qualified elector who objects to the same may request a hearing before the Board, pursuant to 3 DCMR Chapter 4, to raise any objections and to correct any alleged inaccurate or prejudicial short title or summary statement.
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After they reviewed the above material, I had the impression that the Board was ready to approve it.  However, I asked whether "ineligible" meant for the duration of the term, or forever.  Also, whether this would prevent a dismissed Councilmember from running for Mayor, or a dismissed Mayor from running for Council.  These thoughts were discussed for a minute among the Board members.  Then the Chairwoman, Deborah Nichols, said, "this matter is much too serious to rush through", and it was tabled.

Then she asked if I would like to submit suggested language to her regarding and including the issues I had raised with my questions.  I intend to do this early this week and if anyone, especially a lawyer, has a comment I would love to hear it.  They further indicated that they liked having the public attend and wished more would do so.  There were only about 8 of us altogether, including Don who went with me.  I am also wondering why only 10 days is allowed for comment, whereas 30 days was allowed after publication in The Register of our write-in matter.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Ballot Access Update: More DC BOEE Fun and Games

Ballot Access is a serious issue for new and minority parties.  Any effort to restrict ballot access is a serious blow against democratic principles.  Why is the DC Board of Elections and Ethics acting this way?

In a recent post I wrote about the difficulty that several DC Statehood Green Party candidates were having with getting their names approved for PRINTING on the November ballot.  [I recommend reading that post before reading this one.]  After being the only qualified candidates to sign an Affirmation of Candidacy for the available DCSGP slots we were subsequently told that they could not be considered because an unqualified candidate from a different party had received more write-in votes.

The law we thought was valid states that if the candidate with the most votes is disqualified, then the candidate with the next highest number of votes will be the official printed candidate.  Now they are trying to codify a rule saying that if the person with the most votes is disqualified, then NO ONE will be approved.  The Affirmed candidates have been fighting this.  If this rule holds, then it will mean anyone wishing to disrupt a minor party can do so by pursuading enough of the party members (many of whom probably do not know or understand the rules) to vote for a popular member of a different party, thus eliminating the preferred member of their party from the right to be printed on the General Election ballot.  This was done to the Republicans in 2010, now it is being done to the DC Statehood Greens.

The latest development is that BOEE has sent the DC Statehood Green Party a letter saying the Party could "select, in accordance with its rules, an individual who meets the statutory requirements to hold the office sought" for the Nov. ballot.  No one knew that on March 23rd BOEE had proposed new rulemaking to change the selection process just 10 days before the Primary.  Nor did BOEE tell any of the DCSGP write-in candidates who went to BOEE offices on April 6th to Affirm their Candidacy that a rulemaking change was in the works and already being acted upon.  In fact, the letter to DCSGP leadership was sent on April 26, 2012, conveniently 3 days after the allowed 30 day period for comments permitted when proposed rulemaking is printed in the D.C. Register.  How can the BOEE disqualify Affirmed candidates with a rule that is still in the rulemaking process?  As I stated above, no notification was given to these candidates.

At this point it appears that BOEE is either trying to make corrections in their rules that they failed to do after the Bates case in 1993, or they are deliberately catering to the wishes/needs of the dominant DC party.  BOEE further states that "a review of the Board's certification of election results since Bates" demonstrates they have "not relied on these regulations since then."  They further state that the "proposed rulemaking"  was published March 23rd, "so the public had notice of the rulemaking and made no objections."  So one question is, why would BOEE require an Affirmation of Candidacy" without telling us of the pending rule change?  In fact why would we have been told that an Affirmation of Candidacy was required if they already "KNEW" that we were disqualified.

BOEE's next meeting is Tuesday, May 8, 2012 at 10:30 am, in the Board's hearing room at 441 4th St., NW, Suite 280 North.  This is convenient to the Judiciary Sq. Metro stop, and proper ID is required to enter the building.  Hopefully, people concerned about democracy and minority party rights will show up there.  Would anyone like to help us with a legal battle??