Inside an 800-square-foot shop, D.C.-based social entrepreneur Ahmad Ashkar is using his Mom's falafel recipe to raise money for refugees.
A court ruling reopens the possibility that the District will hold an election for attorney general this fall. Virginia’s governor mulls expanding Medicaid as the commonwealth’s budget standoff continues. And Maryland candidates begin their final sprint to primaries on June 24. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
- Phil Mendelson Chairman, D.C. Council (D)
- Jim LeMunyon Member, Virginia House of Delegates (R-Fairfax/Loudoun)
Watch A Featured Clip
Despite the largely negative public reaction to a proposal to tax certain city services, including gym memberships and classes at yoga studios, D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson said again Friday officials would likely not revisit the issue.
The proposed 5.75 sales tax, quickly dubbed the “yoga tax” by many residents, is part of an effort to broaden the city’s tax base, Mendleson said on the Kojo Nnamdi Show’s Friday Politics Hour.
Ultimately, he said, this year’s package of tax reforms would actually save DC taxpayers some hundreds of dollars. If the tax was scrapped, officials would have to find another revenue source to replace it.
In response to a caller who suggested the tax could work against residents’ efforts to stay healthy, Mendleson said “I don’t know any tax administrator … who would say that affects behavior.”
He noted that even the tax on cigarettes, which can reach $2 per pack, hasn’t done much to deter sales, nor has the tax on sugary beverages.
Watch the full discussion below
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5, at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour," starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's a reporter at NBC 4 and columnist for the Current Newspapers. Hi, Tom.
MR. TOM SHERWOODHi, good afternoon.
NNAMDIJoining us in studio is Phil Mendelson. He is the chairman of the D.C. Council. He is a Democrat. Council Chairman Mendelson, thank you for joining us.
MR. PHIL MENDELSONGlad to be here, Kojo. Thank you.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for Chairman Phil "Never Behind the Curve" Mendelson, give us a call at 800-433-8850, 800-433-8850, or send email to email@example.com. You can shoot us a tweet @kojoshow. I don't know where that 'never behind the curve' thing came from, Phil Mendelson.
MENDELSONI think you made it up.
NNAMDII probably did.
SHERWOODLet's just call him tax and spend chairman. Then we'll talk about it afterwards.
MENDELSONYeah, it's cutting taxes and…
NNAMDIWe'll discuss that, but first we have to discuss the decision of the chief of the Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services, Kenneth Ellerbe, to retire. He had a three and a half year tenure that has been described as stormy and probably appropriately so.
NNAMDIHowever, Tom Sherwood, despite the fact that there were problems with his leadership style, despite the fact that there was a great deal of tension between him and the union, despite the fact that deaths occurred during his watch that he seemed not to take fully -- full responsibility for, the next person -- the person who replaces him as chief of this department is going to have to deal with some ongoing problems that probably have little or nothing to do with Chief Ellerbe.
SHERWOODWell, the Fire Department has been in various stages of up and downs since, you know, for 30 year or 40 years. And our guest here is a former chairman of the judiciary committee who oversaw some of the Fire Department, maybe help weigh in on this. But, you know, I already thought that Chief Ellerbe was going to retire at the end of last year when the mayor and he held a press conference announcing they had achieved the 30 new ambulances.
SHERWOODThat they had gotten some new equipment. That they had started down the road to getting the department up to speed on equipment. He had his father at that press conference, Chief Ellerbe did, his father. And I really thought he was going to say, you know, I've done this, now it's time for someone else to move on. But the chief allowed himself to be caught up in petty disagreements with firefighters, telling him to paint doors a different color, fussing at them, changing the name of the Fire Department to initials.
SHERWOODAnd just little things that just would drive people crazy. I think it undermined his overall goal of what he said he was trying to do, which is have the Fire Department guys work more than 24 hour period, where they work 24 hours…
NNAMDIThen they're off the next 72.
SHERWOOD…and they're off three days, 72 hours. And whether that's good policy or not, whether fire fighters should be firemen an emergency technicians or should they combine those jobs, should they be separate? It was just a lot of issues that -- serious issues that are still not resolved while we were lost in discussions with the chief.
NNAMDIChairman Mendelson, a lot of this has to do with changing the culture of a department that was created with the primary purpose of fighting fires, but now finds that more than 80 percent of its calls have to do with emergency medical services. That dispute over the 24 hour work and 72 hour off shift apparently dates back to those days. Yesterday we got a call from Marcus Rosenbaum, whose brother, as you know…
NNAMDI…was killed in 2006. And which set off some reforms in that department. What is your own view of what needs to be done?
MENDELSONI don't think that the issue, the controversy in the department or the challenges of the department are as simple as saying it's EMS versus fire. While there still is some tension within the department over that, I think the department has made a lot of progress in that regard. It is true that over 80 percent of the department's business is responding to EMS calls, not fire calls.
MENDELSONBut I think that Tom is right, that the department has been stuck in a lot of controversy over the last couple of years, and increasing controversy. And actually, if you think back on previous fire chiefs this is not new. And this is an opportunity to get a chief in who can cut through that controversy.
SHERWOODAnd there has been some racial animosity in the department, rising and falling.
MENDELSONWell, absolutely. Race has been in the past and I think is below the surface on -- sometimes. I think this is an opportunity to get a new chief who can manage well and manage through the controversy and resolve…
NNAMDIDo you think that chief should come from within the ranks, within the city or should, as candidate Muriel Bowser suggests, there be a nationwide search?
MENDELSONWell, I think there should be a very broad search, whether that's national or not, probably that does mean national. The ideal candidate, in my view, would be somebody from within the department. And that's not to say that I have somebody in mind. Somebody within the department because they understand the city, they understand the department and they come in with respect from the rank and file. That would be ideal. But I don't think we limit ourselves to that.
MENDELSONBut, you know, I just want to say, you know, by point of comparison, Cathy Lanier is somebody who took over in the department, true that Chief Ramsey, before her, had made a lot of progress. But that's a department that really was very, very troubled back in the '90s. And she knows how to manage. And she knows how to deal with Washington and with the public. And that's what we need in the Fire and EMS.
NNAMDIAnd that was a situation of hiring from within the department.
SHERWOODWell, let me -- can I just mention this nationwide search stuff. It just always rankles me when I hear it. As if the people -- the lunkheads in the city aren't good enough to run these departments and do these jobs. I mean, why don't we have a nationwide search for council candidates?
NNAMDII don't think that our present company…
SHERWOODWhy don't we -- I mean, this idea -- I think I know people -- I know what superficially people mean. Let's just find a good person to run the department and not be limited to where we look. I know that's kind of what it means. But too often for a lot of people in the department, this department and other departments who have given their lives to serving, they're all dismissed because they're part of the program, because they're here. And I think we ought to look carefully at who is local, who knows the groundwork, rather than parachuting in some savior each time we have a big job change.
NNAMDIWe will have to see, but we do have to move on. Mr. Council Chairman, do you think the likelihood is that D.C. voters will be able to go to the polls this year to elect an attorney general? The District's highest court, the Court of Appeals, said on Wednesday that your body, the D.C. Council, acted illegally last year in delaying the first such election until 2018. We voted for it several years ago.
NNAMDIAnd the Court of Appeals said, "Look, if the District can establish that an election in 2014 is not practically possible, then they election must be as held as soon thereafter in 2015, as is practically possible." Your colleague, Jack Evans, is the one who delayed this essentially, or who orchestrated this delay until 2018. Don't call Jack. We have Phil Mendelson here.
MENDELSONAll right. I'm not sure what I'm responding to here. The -- what is before us right now…
SHERWOODYou wanted to have the election.
NNAMDIYes, he did.
NNAMDIYes. Let the record show.
SHERWOODSo is the city prepared now to have this election in November?
MENDELSONI don't know as we speak today, but it ought to be and it could be. In 2012, when Kwame Brown, my predecessor, resigned as chairman of the Council, and it was roughly two years ago to the day, I became chairman and ran in the special election, in the November -- on the November ballot. It was simultaneous with the general election. The timing is almost identical. And nobody thought that that was impossible two years ago. So it is possible now.
MENDELSONLet me be clear. You know, the Council voted seven to six. And I was on the losing side of that seven to six vote. And some may remember that…
SHERWOODSeven to six to delay it to 2018.
MENDELSONTo delay it to 2018.
MENDELSONAnd some may remember that after the first vote I said quite publicly that I thought the Council's action was an embarrassment. We now have an opportunity to take control over this situation, in light of the Court's decision and insure that that election occurs this November. It's clear from the Court that the election will occur. And if it does not occur this November, then we will have to one or two elections next year. Two if we have the typical primary, followed by a general election. And it's roughly a million an election.
MENDELSONSo we can resolve this this year, and do it in the same course that's been followed in the past, such as with the chairman, council chairman in 2012. And we can save two million. Or we can decide to put it off. And might note, there's no money in the budget for two elections next year.
SHERWOODThe candidates who will be on the November ballot -- or trying to be on the November ballot began collecting petitions on June 13th, which is next week.
SHERWOODAnd then they turn them in on August the 8th. That's roughly the two-month period. And so if the Board of Elections -- and I'm told -- I did check yesterday. The Board of Elections is preparing now to have the candidates come in…
SHERWOOD…unless the mayor and the attorney general, in appealing this ruling, hold it up even more.
MENDELSONWell, and I think that the appeal is of no constructive value.
NNAMDIThe attorney general, for those who don't know it, will be filing what is known as an en banc review of the case, putting the key question before all nine Court of Appeals judges. Tom is the only person here who understands what en banc review means.
MENDELSONOkay. En banc is very unusual. That's all nine judges.
NNAMDIOh, you do.
MENDELSONAnd it's very unusual that that occurs. And court observers, first they looked at how controversial and difficult the issue is. And in this case I don't think that applies. And then second, they look at whether the panel, which is the three judges who heard this case, and in other cases typically it's three judges. They look at whether the panel was divided. The panel here was unanimous. And, in fact, the order that they issued was per curiam to…
SHERWOODWill there be candidates -- will there -- I know Paul Zukerberg, who is…
NNAMDII was about to say we haven't mentioned his name, as yet. And we should.
SHERWOODYes, Paul Zukerberg, who is the attorney who pursued this in the courts.
NNAMDIWho filed this.
SHERWOODHe is -- he wants to be a candidate. Says he'll collect the signatures again if he has to, but are there other candidates? Are -- even if you cannot say their names now, are you aware of any person who will meet the qualifications? I think it's five years of practice in the city and some other issues. Are you aware of any candidates who might jump into this? Tommy Wells, yesterday, who did not run -- did not win the mayor's race, and is leaving his council seat, he would not rule out running for attorney general.
MENDELSONI think there are a number of individuals who have been mentioned to me as possibilities. I think that it is a false argument to say that there are no candidates because typically in any election the -- you don't know who the candidates are until the petitions come out. And…
SHERWOODWhat about this…
MENDELSON…I think that there will be a number of candidates who come forward for this election.
SHERWOODFor a city that has severely limited elective offices, the mayor and the council and then, of course, the ANC members, I mean, do you like the idea of an elected attorney general? Why?
MENDELSONWell, I put through the legislation in 2010. It was voted on, as I recall…
MENDELSON…11 to 1. And it was 11 to 1…
SHERWOODWell, what's the point of having…
MENDELSONI just want to say this.
SHERWOODI don't want to hear all that history.
MENDELSONAnd I believe the one was Councilmember Evans, who didn't support it then. The, you know, like so much in government, there are pros and cons to different structures. And we looked at this. I had a number of hearings on this. And elected versus appointed attorney general, there isn't one way that is necessarily better, but an elected attorney general is more likely to be an independent legal counsel to the government.
MENDELSONAnd I think that's very important. Somebody who, without fear, and without having to worry about whether his job is going to be -- he's going to be fired -- says to the Council, "You're wrong," or says to the mayor, "You're wrong." I think that's important.
SHERWOODBut also would be -- he or she would be a different political power center in the city. You'd have the mayor, the Council and then this attorney general.
SHERWOODWho could investigate you guys and then run for mayor him or herself.
MENDELSONI think that's a coincidental benefit. It is not the primary benefit. And the other, in my view, important benefit is by electing the attorney general you're more likely to have a chief legal officer who's sensitive to the community's views. Now, I mean no criticism of the attorney -- of the…
MENDELSONNo. Of the U.S. attorney, but, you know, over the years there have been some criminal cases where I know the community has felt that the U.S. attorney's office was not as aggressive as that office could have been or should have been. And that's reflective of, I'm going to say, community sensitivity. And I think it's -- there's a real value to having an elected prosecutor who is sensitive that our community -- we care -- especially about hate crimes, for example.
MENDELSONWe want to see more aggressive prosecution.
NNAMDIOur guest is -- in case you're just joining us -- is Phil Mendelson. He is the chairman of the D.C. Council. He's a Democrat. If you have questions or comments for him, call us at 800-433-8850. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a tweet @kojoshow. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst, a reporter a NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers.
NNAMDIA week ago the D.C. Council approved the District's largest income tax cut in 15 years. Cuts designed to make the city more affordable. The Council's budget, however, differs from the one the mayor submitted to you quite a bit. Why do you feel it was necessary to initiate those cuts now? And what gave you the confidence, the assurances that your colleagues would go for it?
MENDELSONWell, first of all, what we did in terms of taxes, was essentially to implement what the Tax Revision Commission recommended. The Council, in 2011, established a Tax Revision Commission to look again at our tax code and tax policy, with an eye toward fairness and competitiveness. And also…
SHERWOODChaired by Tony Williams, the former mayor.
MENDELSON…progressivity. And it was chaired, yes, as you said. And the commission made recommendations. Those recommendations were issued last December. The Council had a hearing on them in February. And this was the opportunity to implement the recommendations. And the package that the Council adopted is almost -- I want to say -- almost entirely what the commission recommended. There were a few places we departed.
MENDELSONWe did not agree with increasing the sales tax to 6 percent. And we did not agree with imposing on employers what we call a head tax per…
SHERWOODThe $100 per person.
MENDELSON…person, yes. We didn't agree with that. And but largely we did what the commission recommended. And they had experts who came in and looked at the sales tax, who came in and looked at the business franchise tax, who looked at what I call progressivity and income tax. Progressivity is the concept that those who earn more will pay a higher percentage of their income in income tax.
MENDELSONAnd, in fact, the effective tax rate for those who earn a million dollars or more will be about 6 percent of their income. And for low income people, I'll say about 25,000, 30,000, it'll be around 4 percent of their income. And that's progressivity.
NNAMDIWell, the fact of the matter is that the lowering of the income taxes in general has not been that controversial. What has been controversial, maybe surprisingly, well, I'll let Greg, in Bethesda, Md., ask you that question. Please don your headphones, gentlemen, because Greg is on the air. Go ahead, please, Greg.
GREGHi. Thanks, Kojo. I love your show. Council Chair Mendelson, I have a lot of friends that are up in arms about the gym tax that you're expanding the sales to fitness providers. It's all over Facebook. I think it's ridiculous. I think that since we tax healthy food at restaurants, we tax fitness equipment at Marshalls and Target. Are you revisiting this? Do you think that it might be something that you'll take out?
MENDELSONNo. I don't think the Council's going to change it.
NNAMDIThe gym tax.
MENDELSONYes. You know…
MENDELSON…people talk about how we ought to use the tax code to favor or disfavor certain things. At the rate of 5.75 percent I don't know any tax administrators, experts in the field, who say that that affects behavior. When you're talking about something like the tax on cigarettes, which is -- if I remember correctly -- $2.00 or $2.50 a pack, you can see where we might have some effect on behavior, but not the effect, really, that we want.
MENDELSONAnd we already tax sugary beverages and candy. We don't see a reduction in the consumption of those. At 5.75 percent, we're not going to…
NNAMDIGym owners say that you seem to be under the impression that the people who attend gyms are largely people in the upper levels of the income brackets. But they say a lot of people find it difficult just to meet those fees on a monthly basis. They just feel strongly enough about staying healthy that they do it, but they're not rich people here. Some of them are poor.
MENDELSONWell, this recommendation came from the Tax Revision Commission. And the commission looked at whether this would actually affect, adversely affect the business. And they concluded that it would not. And those are experts and experts who looked at that specific question. Because there's no point in a tax that is actually going to change behavior that we don't want to change.
MENDELSONBut wait a minute. Let me say a little bit more. You know, we -- nobody's objecting to the fact that…
NNAMDIHow many members of this commission are gym members themselves? Did you check?
MENDELSONI don't know. I know Tony Williams used to work out a lot when he was mayor. And I…
SHERWOODAre you saying he neglected his job to work out?
MENDELSONNo. I'm not saying that.
SHERWOODThe media can turn anything…
MENDELSONDon't change the subject, Mr. Sherwood.
SHERWOODGo ahead and make your point before you forget it.
MENDELSONYou know, we've been taxing athletic equipment and athletic gear for years and nobody's objected to that. Nor has anybody said that that has an adverse effect on physical fitness.
SHERWOODWell, you've certainly gotten the heart rate up with these people.
SHERWOODNo. For example, if you do a…
MENDELSONBut this was actually about reforming the sales tax.
MENDELSONThe Tax Revision Commission said to have a better sales tax…
SHERWOODBroaden the base.
MENDELSON…it should be broadened. And we're broadening it, while at the same time we are substantially lowering other taxes, like business taxes, so the gym will pay less in business taxes to the city. And they can cut their fees if they want to.
NNAMDIIn other words, Greg, Bethesda, Md., they're not going to change their minds about that. Thank you so much for your call.
SHERWOODAnd I -- and I've done stories about this and about the broadening of -- one of the gym people who was upset about this said, "Okay. You're going to tax services. You want to go from taxing sales tax simply goods to taxing goods and services."
SHERWOODBut he says, "There are services that you did not even entertain." He says, "Lawyers and lobbyists provide services, but they're not taxed for their services." And I acknowledge that if you have a $15 yoga session, you'll pay less than 90 cents in taxes. Some of the activists who are running the gym say it's an additional burden on them to collect the tax, to account for the tax, to send in the tax, and all that.
MENDELSONAnd that's true for all businesses with the sales tax.
SHERWOODBoy, that's true. But what about the idea that while you broadened the base, but you really didn't broaden it for lawyers and lobbyists who are -- who provide services. Why are they exempt?
MENDELSONWell, the Tax Revision Commission didn't recommend that. And I, as I'm sitting here, I could not tell you why they didn't. They looked at -- they brought in some experts. There was a professor from Tennessee who's very knowledgeable on sales tax and…
MENDELSONDave Fox. And they brought in some other folks. And they looked at this. They didn't recommend that. We looked at what they recommended. And they recommended the health…
SHERWOODOh, can I just -- I think the biggest thing in this that does get lost is that you created -- you cart -- this is for the income tax, people who make $40,000 to $60,000. I don't think you just said it as clearly as I think it is. You created a new tax level, 7 percent or…
MENDELSONWe created two brackets. And one is the middle income.
SHERWOODFor 40,000 to 60,000.
MENDELSONAnd that's adjusted gross income.
SHERWOODWhich is like a 24 percent tax cut from what people were facing otherwise.
SHERWOODIt's one of the biggest changes for many people who are in the low to middle income in this city who are finding it hard to even live here.
SHERWOODSo that was a big tax break.
MENDELSONNo. I think that budget, overall, that we adopted, was a budget about improving affordability in this city. Through the income tax, as well as what we did with the housing production trust fund, what we did with homelessness. It was all about trying to deal with the affordability issue.
SHERWOODCan I ask one question? Just procedurally, people who don't want this fitness tax or this additional sales tax on services, you've passed the budget, is there an opportunity that's coming up -- people -- some -- I saw one person said, "You're going to vote again in the middle of June. And it's an opportunity to reverse this." Is there? Is there going to be that kind of vote?
MENDELSONIt would be very difficult to because there's a fiscal cost to it. And I know that sounds a little strange when I said that we've actually been doing more to cut taxes than to raise taxes. But it's a package. And there's an increase from the expanding of the sales tax base. There's a greater reduction from cutting the income tax for individuals and cutting the franchise tax and changing the exemption on the estate tax.
SHERWOODBut for all of that…
MENDELSONIt's a package.
SHERWOODBut is there any Council…
MENDELSONYou undo part of it…
SHERWOOD…member who was preparing on -- I think it's June 17th, whenever is our next meeting. Is any Council member preparing to move some repeal of the sales tax that you're aware of?
MENDELSONNot that I know of.
SHERWOOD…And it would be very difficult because it did pass…
MENDELSONIt passed unanimously as I recall.
SHERWOOD…fairly strongly, yes. Okay.
NNAMDIOnto the soccer stadium. Here's Allen, in Washington, D.C. Allen, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ALLENYes. Mr. Chairman, I live in Tacoma, just a couple of blocks from you. And Muriel is my city council member. And there is a sign in my front yard for her, which I am very seriously contemplating removing because of this issue. There is a double-header soccer match tomorrow that has already sold over 55,000 tickets, that's being held at FedEx Field because the RFK Stadium was deemed to be in such a deplorable site for this.
ALLEND.C. United is the most-storied team in professional soccer today. They're currently sitting in second place in their conference. Last year's deplorable season notwithstanding. So there was a 33 percent increase in parking at RFK Stadium.
NNAMDIOkay. But there's a question in there somewhere, isn't there, Allen?
ALLENThere is. I'm -- it's coming. But the question fundamentally comes down to this team needs a new stadium. Is -- do those who object to the stadium, are they objecting to the stadium in principle or are they merely objecting to the funding mechanism that was created by the mayor in order to accomplish that?
NNAMDIOkay. Here's Council Chairman Mendelson.
MENDELSONI think the difficulty has to do with the funding mechanism. And Council members are trying to sort this out now and we're in the process of retaining a consultant who will advise us, the Council, on what makes sense. If this was a simple…
SHERWOODAnd you are to spend $200,000 on that consultant.
MENDELSONYes. If this was a simple question of helping financially with the construction of a new stadium, I think the Council -- at least a majority of the members -- would support that. And roughly, the figure we've talked about that I think would be supported is $150 million subsidy for this. But the deal gets very complicated, very quickly. You bring in the Reeves Center, a land exchange, is that land exchange equitable, there are transportation issues with the particular site.
MENDELSONYou know, we didn't look at other sites when the National Stadium. Tom, you may remember this. There were like six or seven sites that were looked at. Here there's been only one site. And so it gets…
SHERWOODHuge -- you didn't mention huge tax breaks for the owners of the soccer team, too.
MENDELSONYes. There's a…
SHERWOODForgiveness of sales taxes and property taxes. Yeah.
MENDELSONThat's true to. And that's above and beyond the $150 million.
SHERWOODIt's a lot more money.
MENDELSONAnd then this deal also requires -- and this is what drives me crazy about the budget -- is that also would require building a new government building, which is not in the capital plan. I mean, it's the same thing as the street cars -- not to bring that up. But, you know, let's do the planning ahead of time. And if we're going to do the soccer stadium where it is and we're going to get rid of the Reeves Center where it is, and we want to relocate government offices timely, then we have to have a new building, at $100 million, $150 million (unintelligible)…
MENDELSON…and it's not in the budget. Not a penny of it was in the…
NNAMDIAllen, the Council chairman will say this is a false choice, but if you had to choose where to be on June 26th between the hearing that's being held in the Council and the U.S./Germany game in Brazil, where would you be?
ALLENI'm gonna be a McGinty's Pub in Silver Spring.
MENDELSONWell, good. But you could actually do both, because the hearing starts at 9:30 in the morning.
NNAMDII told you he would say it was a false choice.
SHERWOODAre you for the soccer? Do you want, I mean, Jack Evans says, "I want all the teams. I want the football team back in town with the right financing." Are you for the soccer team?
MENDELSONWhat does that mean, "with the right financing?"
SHERWOODWell, what he means…
MENDELSONI support it, too, with the right financing.
SHERWOODOkay. That's -- all right. Well, you have to get to that point. But you support the idea of a soccer stadium in town, if it works for the city?
MENDELSONYes. I think…
SHERWOODYou don't have some visceral reaction? You don't, like, hate soccer or something?
SHERWOODDo you hate streetcars?
MENDELSONNo, I don't.
NNAMDIOne of your biggest departures in your planned…
MENDELSONI'm looking forward to H Street. Now, why would you bring that up?
NNAMDIThe biggest departure in your plan from the mayor's plan is the funding that your plan allows for a streetcar system. You have said the mayor's plan for streetcar funding is not sustainable. What do you mean by that?
MENDELSONWell, the mayor's plan was based on what we call pay-go funding. And pay-go is where you take money that comes in and you sit it aside for capital expenditures. Building a streetcar line is a capital expenditure. And capital dollars are treated differently and typically we borrow for capital, rather than use incoming revenue. So pay-go is, in my view, is a very good thing.
MENDELSONThe mayor's plan, which had billion dollars for using pay-go, was based on a formula for raising pay-go that was not sustainable. In a matter of four years our pay-go would be equal to our entire revenue growth year to year. And in six years our pay-go would be more than what we were bringing in in revenue, new revenue.
MENDELSONWhich means, basically, we'd have to start cutting services and laying off people. Some folks may think that's a good thing, to streamline government. But you really can't plan a government going forward if what you're doing is you're actually restricting the revenues for that, which we have not. That's why it was unsustainable. Now, you know, the mayor proposed like a billion dollars, last year it was 400 million, was all that we needed.
MENDELSONAnd this year it's, no, we need a billion dollars. And so in year 2019, 2020, we cut half of that. And we left -- we didn't leave 400, we actually increased it to almost $600 million. I think that's a quite a commitment. That's $600 million for streetcars going forward.
SHERWOODLet me ask -- maybe if I can simplify all those numbers. So, but you took about $400 million out of this future planning that the mayor had for streetcars, saying it could be done going forward later.
SHERWOODBut they can't even spend the money that they have now…
SHERWOOD…quickly and well.
MENDELSONHow come you say this better than I do?
SHERWOODI don't know. I always wonder why you cannot get better soundbites, but that's a whole different program.
MENDELSONYou're a TV guy.
SHERWOODAll right. But what the advocates of the streetcar system have not heard from you and what they would like to hear is, "I, Phil Mendelson, want the streetcars. I think it's a good edition to the city. I think the 37 -- 21 mile route or 37 mile route…
NNAMDIHe's speaking for you now.
SHERWOOD…"will do well. We of course have to build it well and all of that. But I am in favor of streetcars." People don't hear that you're in favor of streetcars. Like, you're not sure it's even a good idea. Is it going to just be used by tourists? Is it going to really move people to the soccer stadium?
NNAMDIHow do you really feel?
SHERWOODAre you -- is it going to move people from one side of town to Georgetown? Are you in favor of streetcars?
MENDELSONAm I in favor of streetcars? Just very generally yes. And I would very much like to see the H Street line open. And I think it is indicative of problems with this program that it has taken longer -- I think I saw this today -- it's taken longer to get the H Street streetcars up than the Silver Line (unintelligible)…
SHERWOODNow, we're in competition with the Silver Line, that's true. But unfortunately…
MENDELSONYeah, and we're losing.
SHERWOODNo. We're winning I guess in the competition.
MENDELSONIf the goal is to be the last. And to -- yes, to over spend.
MENDELSONAnd wait a minute, hold on. You know, one of the things…
NNAMDIHe's now managing the show.
SHERWOODHe's waving his arms. You should see this on the Twitter feed or whatever.
MENDELSONYeah, you wanted me to be more excited, Tom.
MENDELSONThank you. You know, one of the things that's key to any expansion of the H Street line west -- because we're talking about expanding the streetcar to Georgetown…
MENDELSON…is you have to get over the H Street Bridge. We know that. That has to happen now. The H Street Bridge has to be replaced. It's also key to the Union Station revitalization, which will allow Amtrak to bring in high-speed rail and more -- better service. The H Street Bridge has to be replaced. Was it in the mayor's budget? No. Not at all. We put the money for that.
MENDELSONI just -- drives me crazy to say that somehow we're killing streetcars, when the next step we know has to occur, which is the H Street Bridge, wasn't even in the budget. It's like that same thing with the soccer stadium. Got to do it now, but the next step which was necessary -- building an office building -- not even in the budget. We put the money…
NNAMDIOnly have time for one more…
MENDELSONWe put the money in the budget for that.
NNAMDI…question. And Oscar, in Washington, wants to go back to the Fire Department. Oscar, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
OSCARYes. I was just looking at the Washington Post and it says "Debacle Continues At -- Even with the New Mayor." My question to you Council Chairman, you have never stated a position on whether or not you favor changing the shifts of the Fire Department. I can't see how anyone can come in and manage a department where people work one day, out three. Will you explain what is your position on this shift? Because that is fundamental to the morale of the Fire Department.
MENDELSONWell, actually I have stated my view. And that is that I think that there ought to be a change in the shift. And I know that that's not popular with some of the rank and file. I've also said repeatedly I think that's something that needs to be negotiated. We actually would have better service -- all the experts say that a person who works a 24-hour shift is just not as good in the 24th hour as they are in let's say the 12th hour.
MENDELSONAnd given the fact that so much of Fire and EMS is about EMS, we know, medically, that 12 hours is about the maximum that one should work. I've said repeatedly, I think this is something that should be bargained, but I've also said repeatedly that I think that there's a better way than the current 24-hour shift.
NNAMDIPhil Mendelson is chairman of the D.C. Council. He is a Democrat. Phil Mendelson, thank you so much for joining us.
SHERWOODAre you marching in the Pride Parade tomorrow?
MENDELSONYeah, absolutely, I'll be in the parade.
NNAMDIWe're about to get to that in a second. Our resident analyst is Tom Sherwood. He is a reporter for NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. The principal of Wilson High School, I guess, surprised quite a few people when he came out during a ceremony at the school where he was standing next to Mayor Vincent Gray and openly gay D.C. Council member David Catania. And Pete Cahill, is that his name is pronounced?
NNAMDIPete Cahall told the world that he is gay. How significant…
SHERWOODAnd he was as nervous as he could be.
NNAMDIYeah, because his hands were shaking.
SHERWOODI was there to cover the event, even though someone foolishly in the mayor's office had said it was closed to the media. We ignored that and went anyway. And we welcomed, of course, as they were last year. But Pete Cahill got up -- Cahall -- got up with the mayor and David Catania, the council member who was there, and he started reading his statement. And then he came out to the students. There's a huge cheer from all the crowd there.
SHERWOODAnd he was still shaking a few minutes afterwards because it was such a strong thing for him. He's 50 years old. He's been the principal for six years. He's from -- he graduated from the University of Virginia. He played football there. He was recruited, I think, by Michelle Rhee, out of Montgomery County, to come to Wilson. He's overseen the complete rebuilding of that school and the growth of that -- it's got 1,700 students now.
SHERWOODAnd there's a whole issue about getting another high school. And you could see, after he made his announcement, that the students and all the people there just thought it was a terrific thing for him. He says he's marching in the parade tomorrow. I think he's going to march with David Catania.
NNAMDIAlso in the parade tomorrow will be featured a U.S. Armed Forces Color Guard, which has never happened before. Apparently, there's no policy that has prevented the U.S. Armed Forces Color Guard from participating in gay right events, since the 2011 repeal of "Don't ask, don't tell." But, apparently, they have routinely not done so, offering excuses like they were otherwise occupied. But that won't be happening on this occasion.
SHERWOODWell, I know that the Color Guard who'll be there from the military district of Washington. They provide -- the Color Guards, for many community events...
NNAMDIWill you be there, Phil Mendelson?
SHERWOODHe said he would be.
MENDELSONYes. I will be there. I've been there every year.
SHERWOODNow, at this point...
NNAMDIWhy are you still here, by the way? We ended your segment.
SHERWOODBut what -- can we...
MENDELSONI can't leave you, Kojo.
MENDELSONWhy are you still here?
SHERWOODYou have the -- I want to know. Anyway, your own thought about the principal before you go, I mean, it's...
MENDELSONWell, I was talking to my daughter about it yesterday. I...
SHERWOODHow old is she?
MENDELSONShe's 13, about to go to high school. She will not be going to Wilson. She'll be going to Ellington. I think, on the one hand, it's great, and, on the other hand, I would like to see us a little farther in society where this is not something that is noteworthy any longer, that it's just ordinary, accepted, not a big deal.
NNAMDIJoining us now by phone is Jim LeMunyon. He is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates. He's a Republican whose district includes parts of Fairfax and Loudoun Counties. Delegate LeMunyon, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. JIM LEMUNYONGood to be with you. Thank you.
NNAMDIYou will be headed to Roanoke this weekend for the Virginia Republican Party convention. There was a lot of handwringing last year when a convention resulted in the party fielding candidates who were swept in every statewide race in the fall. But this year the party seems to be getting behind Ed Gillespie as a U.S. Senate candidate, a Republican better known inside the Beltway than in rural Virginia. What's changed in the dynamics within the party heading into this nomination convention process?
LEMUNYONWell, I think -- I'm going to be down there tomorrow, and I'll be voting for Ed. I think people have maybe given more thought to an old saying that Bill Buckley used to say, which is, Republicans ought to nominate the most conservative candidate who is electable in November. And sometimes we've forgotten that second half of that sentence. And I think people have realized that separate and apart from a particular viewpoint or candidate, we've got to run people who are competitive if we're going to make a difference in government. And I think that's probably the difference.
NNAMDIHere's Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODGood afternoon, sir. Are you driving down today? Are you going, did you say, tomorrow? Are you going down tonight for Paul Ryan's appearance?
LEMUNYONYeah. I -- no, I'm probably going to go first thing tomorrow morning. I've got quite a few other things that happened today -- was going to go down today, and then the schedule got changed a little bit.
SHERWOODNothing ever goes according to plan. E.W. Jackson ran for lieutenant governor. He wowed the convention and swept the field of several candidates. Now, Mr. Gillespie, who's a nationally known figure in the Republican Party, has three opponents, Shak Hill, Tony DeTora, and Chuck Moss. Do you see any chance for any of those three little-known candidates can sweep the convention?
LEMUNYONNo. I think if everyone who says they're pledged to support Ed Gillespie actually shows up and does that, I think he'll be fine. I don't expect it'll be close. But it's the showing up part. That's what's always the kind of the random factor in these statewide conventions.
SHERWOODThis -- the point of this convention is to get a candidate who's going to beat Mark Warner, right? 'Cause I read the call to -- the delegates call, the letter that was sent out to all the delegates. And right away, in the first couple of sentences, it starts attacking Mark Warner for his -- for abandoning the principles for which he ran five, six years ago, and that he's supporting Obamacare. Do you think Obamacare will be the big issue in the Virginia election? It seems to be fading in some others.
LEMUNYONI think it's going to be one of the issues. I think that, you know, what Ed Gillespie has said -- and several people have actually checked the facts and found it to be true -- that Sen. Warner has voted with the president on key votes 97 percent of the time, the Obamacare just being one of those. And so I think that the challenge for Mark Warner is to say, here's why I voted 97 percent of the time with Barack Obama but why you should still consider me to be a centrist. I think most people would say those two don't add up, and that's the opportunity for Ed Gillespie.
NNAMDIOur guest is Jim LeMunyon. He's a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, a Republican whose district includes parts of Fairfax and Loudoun Counties. If you have questions or comments for Delegate LeMunyon, give us a call at 800-433-8850. What is your expectation of the convention that will take place starting tomorrow? 800-433-8850 or send email to email@example.com. Where do you think Mark Warner is vulnerable, Delegate LeMunyon?
LEMUNYONI think he needs to be talking -- if I were in his shoes or working on his campaign -- about things he's accomplished in the Senate in the last six years as distinct from when he was governor. I do a lot of door knocking both when I'm on the ballot and this year when I'm not for other candidates. And when you talk to people informally and you say, well, what is it you think about when you think about Mark Warner? More often than not -- in fact, almost always, something will come to mind that was when he was governor.
LEMUNYONYou know, he did this or he did that, and that's -- you know, he's a good guy. That's why I liked him. But when you say, oh, you know, can you think of one thing he's done in the Senate in the last six years, that's a little bit more of a challenge. And I think that's -- he needs to be talking about those things now, to the extent that 97 percent of the time he's voted with the president, that's going to be tough.
SHERWOODWell, he was one of the senators -- was it the Gang of Six or the gang of whoever who was trying to avoid the horrendous shutdown of government that backfired somewhat on the Republicans? That's one thing he'll be able to talk about, I think.
LEMUNYONYeah. And that's -- we'll see. I obviously don't advise his campaign. But we'll see what they want to rollout. But if I were them -- I think he's got to talk more about the fact that he's a business guy or is known for some things he did while he was governor 'cause people, they say, well, that's all nice, but that's a long time ago now.
SHERWOODWell, something that's in the face of the Virginia state assembly right now is the state budget. I mean, there's a horrendous fight over the budget and Medicaid -- expansion of Medicaid. There seems to be a real push now to get a budget by July 1. Can that happen?
LEMUNYONSure, it can happen. What, I think, has been lost in some of the reporting on this is, except for the Medicaid issue, there is wide agreement between Republicans and Democrats, members of the House and Senate, on the particulars in the budget. I mean, there might be one or two issues here or there. But that was not an issue while we were in session. It's just a question of, you know, how do we do this while the governor and then the Democratic leadership and the president want to hold it -- in the Senate, want to hold it hostage for Medicaid expansion.
NNAMDIAllow me to interrupt because Debra in Reston, Va. has a call specifically about that. Debra, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DEBRAThank you. I'd like to ask Delegate LeMunyon -- I'm from a neighboring district in Reston, and I'd like to understand more about why, when so many of his constituents would be impacted by Medicaid expansion to allow them to have health insurance, why he is so much against that? And I'll take my answer off the air.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Delegate LeMunyon.
LEMUNYONWell, it's a good question. And I think what it points to is the fact that what we don't talk about is the current Medicaid program. The current Medicaid program, which is a 50/50 cost-share between the state and the federal government, like it is in most states, has almost a million Virginians on it. And it is growing between 6 and 8 percent a year, and has for several years. It's grown 45 percent in the last six years. Tax revenues in Virginia are growing at 2 or 3 percent a year. That's simply not sustainable public policy.
LEMUNYONIt's -- to use an analogy, it's a train that's really run away from a financial standpoint, and, in my view, before we talk about putting more people on the train, we've got to put some brakes on the train. And the principal issue with Medicaid is to get the cost under control. When we're confident we can do that, we can talk about how many people ought to be on it and who and why. I'm not afraid of more people on Medicaid. In fact, another 150,000 have signed up in the last two years on the current program. It's a question of how do we sustain this financially?
SHERWOODGov. McAuliffe has said that this is an opportunity to have this program funded by the federal government. And I think there's some fear that down the road that the 100 percent funding by the Feds will drop to 90 percent, and then Virginia has to pick up the additional 10 percent. Is that one of our concerns?
LEMUNYONWell, the way the Affordable Healthcare Act is written is the federal government would fund 100 percent of the newly-added people, not the people currently on the program, and do that for three years and then go back to 90. But even if you look at that 10 percent, three years out, that's $250 million a year out of the Virginia general fund. That money's just not sitting there today. It's going to education. It's going to public safety.
LEMUNYONIt's going to other programs. And with the 50 percent share that we're already bearing -- and with that growing so rapidly -- you know, there's not a -- I mean, my concern is in two years, when another budget comes out, that the governor will have to propose at that point in time a big tax increase is coming to pay for all this. And nobody wants to talk about that, but I don't see how the numbers add up any other way.
NNAMDIWhat would be your proposal for controlling costs in Medicaid?
LEMUNYONWell, I think we need to take a step back and say, okay, what other -- there's a number of things that are on the table, one of which is to work with nursing homes who care for older folks because that is one important part of the Medicaid population, and that's growing very rapidly. We have folks that are on both Medicaid, the federal program for older folks, as well as -- I'm sorry, Medicare, the federal program for older folks, as well as Medicaid.
LEMUNYONThey're called dual enrollees in the jargon that the Medicaid people use. And the question is, can they be accommodated some more cost-effective way that still meets their concerns? You've got folks who are disabled for a number of reasons. Is there a way to provide them care, either community-based care or, if they continue to need it, institutionalized care and find out what the cost drivers are in those cases?
LEMUNYONAnd then you have just kids and folks that are not in either of those categories that need medical assistance. You've got other folks who might qualify if we expanded it. They'll also qualify separately under the Affordable Care Act for different type of insurance eligibility. So it's getting that all on the table. And it's also looking at other benefits that are available to these same folks as well and saying, how do we handle this? How does this make sense?
SHERWOODYou -- the state, looking at the next two-year budget cycle, biannual budget cycle, you've got something like a billion-dollar, $1.3 billion shortfall facing you in the -- and you have to go to the rainy day fund. How big is the rainy day fund these days?
LEMUNYONRainy day fund, I think, has probably got 4 or 5 billion in it. We borrowed this -- as much as we could back in the recession, 2009, 2010. We've been putting money back into it. There's a constitutionally mandated minimum. I think we need to look at the next month's revenue in Virginia. We had a blip in the most recent data that got some attention in the news. I hope it's a blip and not a trend. But in any event, there's not the three -- or sometimes even the projections were 4 percent growth in revenue going forward. That's just not happening.
NNAMDIYou recently co-sponsored a bipartisan ethics bill with Delegate Scott Surovell and Delegate David Ramadan which concerned governments -- governor's development opportunity fund. The bill would prohibit the governor from seeking or accepting gifts over $50 from those under consideration to receive a grant from the fund. Gov. McAuliffe vetoed the bill despite the fact that it passed unanimously in the general assembly. What do you think is the future of this?
LEMUNYONWell, I'd introduce it again with Scott Surovell and anyone else who wants to be part of that. Dick Saslaw, who's the Democratic leader in the Senate, was also a co-sponsor of the Senate version. And all we're trying to do is -- you know, the deve3lopment opportunity fund is a fund that's got about $35 million in it. And the governor can use that to help attract companies to Virginia or support the expansion of companies in Virginia.
LEMUNYONBut, you know, whether it's this governor or any other governor, they have wide latitude on the size of the check and who gets it. It's not competitively bid, and so we just thought, from a standpoint of appearances, we ought to make sure that people aren't making contributions to the governor of one form or another while they're under consideration. It seemed to make sense to me, still does.
NNAMDIHere's Hampton in Fairfax, Va. Hampton, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
HAMPTONGood afternoon, Kojo. Mr. (word?) you were part of the folks that approved the expansion of the Fairfax County Parkway at 46 on the overpass of 66 through the American Recovery Act. I'd like to know specifically why you allowed the build-out of that expansion and that includes (unintelligible) without getting approval for an environmental impact study. I understand that's been waived. And the reason I'm asking that question is because, with these horrendous rains, we -- Greenbriar and (word?) have been impacted seriously by the flooding off the highway, which we're having an ongoing battle with VDOT.
LEMUNYONWell, if you've got an issue with that, shoot me an email. I'm in touch with VDOT every other day, it seems. Just got an email from them this morning about some paving that they're doing. But, to the best of my knowledge, they've complied with all applicable federal and state rules on these projects. If that's not true, I'd sure like to know about it. But if you've got a particular issue with water runoff during flooding, I'd be happy to follow up on it.
NNAMDIHampton, thank you for your call.
SHERWOODDelegate, a lot of people may not know you. You represent the 67th district in Virginia's -- the general assembly? And that's...
SHERWOOD...Centreville, Sudley Road, Chantilly general area. How would you describe your -- where you are?
LEMUNYONWell, the Western Fairfax and then a little bit of Eastern Loudoun County, the Eastern half of South Riding and some communities south of there. But the Route 50 from basically the Fair Oaks Mall out to Loudoun County goes through the center of the district. And I-66 forms the southern boundary.
SHERWOODI know that on your website, you talk about -- in fact, it says right on there, we'd be better off if Washington handed back to state and local governments responsibility for programs, such as education, social services. Are you a conservative Republican? How would you describe yourself?
LEMUNYONWell, I'm pretty conservative. I, from time to time, will vote the other way if I think that's in the best interest of the people I represent and the people...
SHERWOODYou were endorsed by The Washington Post once. I know that's a mark against you.
LEMUNYONActually, twice, turns out.
SHERWOODOh, twice, okay.
LEMUNYONBut, no, that -- what you just read on the website, since you mentioned The Post, was a letter I wrote to the editor in response to their op-ed a couple of weeks ago about the debacle at the Veterans Administration and saying, gee, this isn't the only time. Whether it's the IRS chasing the Tea Party or whether it's the rollout of the websites for Obamacare or whether it's going back 10 years or almost 10 years to the response to Katrina, we keep having these sort of blowups and problems in the government. And their answer was, well, we need to have a better personnel system. And what I tried to say is, federal government's just trying to do too much.
SHERWOODWhat do you do...
LEMUNYONIt's too big to succeed.
SHERWOODWhat do you do for a living? You're in the high tech world, I think.
LEMUNYONYeah. I've run a technology company that was sold to Dow Corning a number of years ago, and I provide management consulting to little companies and actually an Internet trade association...
SHERWOODDo you do government contracting?
LEMUNYONI do -- I do not now. We had some R&D contracts back when I was in the technology world.
SHERWOODOkay then. You're not a lobbyist or anything like that?
LEMUNYONNo, I'm not.
NNAMDIHere's Doris in Falls Church, Va. Doris, your turn.
DORISYes. Thank you. Mr. LeMunyon, I was just wondering -- you were discussing the Medicaid program, the current Medicaid program in Virginia. And I was wondering whether you would be in favor of -- and your other colleagues -- of removing the current caps on home and community-based services and Medicaid waivers which cost one-third of what it costs to keep people in nursing homes and other institutions and stop just sending people to nursing homes and other institutions because the caps on services right now are forcing people to see institutional care.
NNAMDIWe only have about a minute left, Delegate LeMunyon.
LEMUNYONSure. Now we have -- I have supported raising the caps and allowing more people to have community-based care every time that that's been in the budget. And I think there's strong bipartisan support for that. As you may know, the Justice Department has a particular view about institutional-based care as well, and we -- in the process of closing down some of those facilities. That's -- community-based care will work for a lot of folks, and when it does, that's great. It's not going to work for everyone.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Doris. Delegate LeMunyon, thank you so much for joining us.
LEMUNYONHappy to be here.
NNAMDIJim LeMunyon is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates. He's a Republican whose district includes parts of Fairfax and Loudoun. Tom, we only have 30 seconds left. We didn't get a chance to talk about the debates among the Maryland candidates with the gubernatorial candidates in Maryland. They were spirited. They don't seem to have made much of a difference in the polls.
SHERWOODWell, people still don't know that there's an election in Maryland. They've got to wake up. It's on the 24th of June. And we didn't get a chance to mention that Calvin Robinson, former chief of staff to Tony Williams, pled guilty this week, so more scandal in the city.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, he's our resident analyst, a reporter at NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Have a great weekend. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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