Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld talks about the future of WMATA and what reopening will look like. And D.C. Councilmember Vincent Gray walks us through city budget and gives us an update on building a hospital east of the Anacostia River.
What would it look like if D.C. gave all its residents $100 per month to use for Metro rides? That’s what a new proposal from D.C. Councilmember Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) would do. He joined The Politics Hour.
Allen’s Proposal For Subsidized Metro Rides And Improved Bus Service
- Allen’s new bill, the Metro For D.C. Amendment Act of 2020, has two key parts. It would dedicate $10 million to improve bus service for low-income communities, and it would create a program that would give D.C. residents $100 monthly on their SmarTrip card.
- What will this cost, and how will D.C. pay for it? Allen’s office said the SmarTrip subsidy program would cost between $54 million to $151 million. And the councilmember told The Washington Post that the city wouldn’t need to raise taxes to pay for the program. Instead, Allen said D.C. could use the tax revenue that D.C. isn’t spending on services.
- “The way this works is that as the revenues increase, much like every other thing we fund, it gets baked into the budget,” Allen said on The Politics Hour. “Now, let’s say the budget were to somehow downturn, then we’re making decisions on everything.”
- The majority of the Council co-introduced the legislation with Allen, including three key councilmembers: Chairman Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) who chairs the Council’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment, and Robert White (D-At Large) who chairs the committee responsible for Metro’s oversight hearings.
Jack Evans Made An Appearance At A Ward 2 Candidate Forum
- The former Ward 2 councilmember was met with boos and jeers at this week’s forum, which was moderated by Kojo and our resident political analyst Tom Sherwood.
- “It was like a carnival atmosphere,” said WAMU politics reporter Martin Austermuhle. “What’s going to happen here? What’s he going to say?”
- “On the whole, it was basically a negative audience for him,” Sherwood said on The Politics Hour.
- Would Allen move to expel Evans from the council if he were reelected? “Remember, the council actually stopped investigating. We had so much already discovered [on Evans] to be able to take action on, we actually stopped digging any deeper,” Allen said on The Politics Hour. “I know I’m prepared — and I know many of the other councilmembers are as well, should he find himself back as a member of the council, we’re going to restart that and just go dig back and continue the investigation.”
- The D.C. Department of Health and D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency are planning for future impacts of the novel coronavirus. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) has authorized $500,000 from D.C.’s reserve fund to be used for supplies for first-responders who could come in contact with the virus.
- “I think the mayor’s been doing a very good job of pulling all those players together,” Allen said on The Politics Hour.
- “What do you recommend: The toe tap or the elbow bump to greet people?” Sherwood asked Allen. “I’m still shaking hands and hugging people,” Allen said.
Maryland confirmed three cases of the new coronavirus last night — all in Montgomery County. Montgomery County’s health officer and chief of Public Health Services Dr. Travis Gayles joined The Politics Hour to discuss.
Montgomery County’s Preparations For The New Coronavirus
- Local health officials in Maryland’s most populous county are taking steps to prevent an outbreak of the new coronavirus, which causes a disease called COVID-19, after three cases were confirmed in the county.
- Maryland Governor Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency to speed the delivery of resources. So far, no cases of the novel coronavirus have been diagnosed in Virginia or D.C.
- Gayles said that the majority of people in the community are at low risk, according to Bethesda Beat’s Briana Adhikusuma.
- Montgomery County Public Schools said they are prepared to continue teaching remotely if there’s a local outbreak of the disease.
- “It’s important to note that the three cases are tied to travel,” Dr. Gayles said “There is no information that we have available right now to suggest that there is any evidence or incidence of community transmission within the jurisdiction.”
- Dr. Gayles explained why the county is not sharing certain information about the individuals who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 with the public: “We’ve been very careful about sharing all of the details. …We also have to make sure that we balance issues of privacy and protect the privacy of the individuals involved.”
Sorting political fact from fiction, and having fun while we’re at it. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
Produced by Cydney Grannan and Julie Depenbrock
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper; @tomsherwood
- Charles Allen Member, D.C. Council (D-Ward 6); @charlesallen
- Dr. Travis Gayles Public Health Services Officer, Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services
- Martin Austermuhle Politics reporter, WAMU; @maustermuhle
KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at America University in Washington, welcome to The Politics Hour, starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst and contributing writer for Washington City Paper. Tom Sherwood, welcome.
TOM SHERWOODGood afternoon, everyone.
NNAMDILater in the broadcast, we'll be talking with Dr. Travis Gayles, the public health services officer for Montgomery County's Department of Health and Human Services. In the wake of Governor Larry Hogan yesterday revealing that three Montgomery County residents had tested positive for the coronavirus, we'll talk with Dr. Gayles about what the county and the state are doing about this.
NNAMDIBut joining us in studio now is Martin Austermuhle. He's a politics reporter for WAMU. Martin Austermuhle covered last night the Ward 2 candidates debate that Tom Sherwood and I had the privilege of cohosting. Martin, thank you so much for joining us.
MARTIN AUSTERMUHLEThanks for having me.
NNAMDIAnd because this is a conversation about what happened last night, Charles Allen can jump in. He's a member of the D.C. Council, reporting Ward 6. He is a Democrat. Charles Allen, thank you for joining us.
CHARLES ALLENThanks so much for having me.
NNAMDIBefore we get into that conversation, Tom Sherwood, let's talk about what happened this past Tuesday, on Super Tuesday, in Virginia, where Joe Biden won very easily in a state that Mike Bloomberg had spent a lot of money in.
SHERWOODThat's true. Biden had his own three-day miraculous resurrection from the South Carolina primaries, which he knocked out of the park. And then three days later, he won the Super Tuesday primaries. Out of the 14 states, he won 10 of them, Virginia leading the way. Both with the results for Biden, but also with just reporting the results. Virginia did very well, and someone suggested Virginia should run all the elections around the country.
SHERWOODBut it was a big deal. It historically and dramatically changed the race. Super Tuesday seems like three weeks ago, not three days ago. The big deal now is that it's a race between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. Sanders has altered his campaign schedule. He's going to Michigan next week. There are five or six states that have primaries, Michigan being the principal one, because Bernie won it against Hillary Clinton. He needs to win it again, or his campaign is in trouble.
NNAMDIMaryland lawmakers had -- Democrats in the Maryland General Assembly had proposed a sales tax expansion as a way of funding the very ambitious Kirwan Commission plan for education in Maryland. They were going to expand taxes to not only businesses, but services, also. That apparently got knocked down, but they have come up with another plan that they're moving forward with.
NNAMDIA variety of taxes to fund this plan. Of course, Governor Hogan is not a big fan of the current commission education plan and is probably likely to veto anything they come up with.
SHERWOODWell, this is a lot better than what the governor thought. He thought it was outrageous. They had this plan to raise $2.9 billion to help fund the Kirwan reform of state schools for 10 years. But after a lot of pushback on that plan, which would have changed, which something is happening now -- governments, more and more, are going to tax services rather than just goods.
SHERWOODBut this failed terribly when they had hearings on it, and so now they have a plan to raise cigarette taxes by a dollar, for all you folks who still smoke. I think it should be $5, but that's a different issue. And so now they have a different plan, and they're going to vote on it, and all the details are not yet worked out. But it looks like something will go forward.
SHERWOODInstead of funding for maybe the 10-year period, they're funding three years, so kind of kicking down the road the next legislative sessions in the next few years will have to, again, restructure the taxes to pay for it.
NNAMDIAnd an important adjustment in this new plan is that they've adjusted funding requirements so that Baltimore City, Prince Georges County, and a few other jurisdictions won't have to pay as much as they were originally estimated to pay, because those jurisdictions were saying that we might not be able to do this.
SHERWOODWell, it's clear, since the beginning of the legislature, that both Prince Georges and Baltimore are not in a position to pay their local share, the 24-county local share. And so there is a change. I don't know the details of what it's going to be. It still may not be set in stone. But it's clear Prince Georges and Baltimore, and maybe one other county are going to get some relief from these local taxes that will have to be raised.
NNAMDIOn to what happened last night at Foundry United Methodist Church here in Ward 2 on 16th Street in Washington, where nine candidates vying for the Ward 2 Council set met to debate. Among those candidates, of course, was the former incumbent, Jack Evans, who participated in that debate. And, Martin Austermuhle, you were there to cover it. What stood out to you about Jack Evans' participation?
AUSTERMUHLEWell, I think the first thing to note, obviously, this wasn't just about Jack Evans. I mean, the big story being he shows up for the first time since he resigned two months ago from office, and now he's running for office again. So, I think a lot of people showed up, kind of it was like a carnival atmosphere.
AUSTERMUHLELike, what's going to happen here? Like, what's he going to say, how is he -- what's the apology going to be, is there going to be an apology? And there was. His opening statement went straight into it. He apologized for what he did. He said he'd embarrassed himself, the council, the city, the ward.
AUSTERMUHLEAnd his family. He kind of -- I wouldn't -- I mean, Tom and Kojo were there. They kind of saw the immediate response. There were some boos, there was some jeering, there were some people kind of acting, like, incredulous, like how dare you come back out and run again. And then, over the course of the debate, he played up his usual experience. You know, "I've been at this for 29 years, look at all the things I did, all the schools I got modernized." And then, you know, he was facing attacks from his challengers, which makes sense. And there was a moment there where he went, like, full populist. He said, "You reelect me, and I will get rid of all the council perks I once enjoyed. No more special council license plates that get us out of parking tickets, no more tickets to go see the Nats or to go see a concert at the Capital One arena."
AUSTERMUHLEAnd again, I feel like -- Tom could correct me on this one -- but it seemed like the audience wasn't so much buying kind of whether this was true or not. It seemed like, you know, he was kind of searching for a way to get back to the audience, and it didn't seem like it was working.
SHERWOODWell, he -- yeah, it was a large audience at Foundry United Methodist Church on 16th Street. We thank them for host -- allowing us to be there. And the crowd was largely against Jack Evans. It was largely a polite crowd, except when he spoke, and then there would be these various boos and stuff.
SHERWOODI don't think he's depending on that specific crowd for his comeback trail. But, you know, some people in the Post story I think noted that he gets some props at least for showing up to express himself.
SHERWOODAnd that was good.
NNAMDIAnd he seemed to get some props from members of the audience when he apologized profusely for what he did. That was the only point I think at which he was applauded last night, and I couldn't figure out whether the applause was well, we thank you for apologizing, or get out of here.
SHERWOODYeah, I think on the whole it was, basically, a negative audience for him, but there were people, again, like 400 or more people in the audience, and, you know, it's a crowded field for the primary on June 2nd. There are eight candidates, so -- and a lot of them are not known, and are not particularly -- haven't really put together great campaigns yet. So, we could see what happens in terms of who wins in a very crowded race.
AUSTERMUHLEWell, can I jump in just real fast?
AUSTERMUHLEBecause I think it's important to note here, Jack Evans didn't get in trouble because of tickets to a Nats game or perks for a parking ticket. He got in trouble because of a pattern and practice of unethical behavior of taking money from clients, and then taking action on that. So, it's not really compelling to me or probably many Ward 2 voters that he wants to get rid of some baseball tickets or a perk, because that wasn't what got him in trouble.
AUSTERMUHLEWhat got him in trouble was the fact that somebody decided to essentially sell their office, and a pattern and practice of abuse of the trust that the voters put in them. And that's very serious. It's much more serious than some tickets to a baseball game.
NNAMDIWell, since we're talking about Jack Evans here, and we have another member of the council here, we can ask him some of the questions, a couple of the questions that we asked last night. One of those questions were that if city voters vote in favor of an initiative, as you -- and you as a member of the council -- would you ever, ever vote to revoke an initiative that the citizens of the District of Columbia have approved?
ALLENYou know, I wrestled with this with initiative 77, for example. That was -- at the ballot box, I had publicly said that I was not supporting initiative 77. It ultimately passed, however, and then we had this decision in front of us about whether to overturn that or not.
ALLENAnd I really had to think long and hard about that, and, ultimately, I was one of those votes against repealing it, because it had gone before the voters, and it had passed, even though it wasn't how I had cast my own ballot. So, you know, in politics, you should never say there's ever an absolute, but there's gotta be a really, really high bar when it comes to overturning the will of the voters. And I think what you're getting at is, you know, should the voters of Ward 2 send Jack back to the council.
NNAMDI(overlapping) And there's the Tom Sherwood setup.
ALLENYeah, exactly. I mean, then do I believe that's the same thing as a voter referendum, and does that mean that I excuse and just vacate all of ethical violations that we saw. And I don't believe we do. Remember, the council actually stopped investigating. We had so much already discovered to be able to take action on, we actually stopped digging any deeper.
ALLENI know I'm prepared -- and I know many others on the council are, as well -- should he find himself back as a member of the council, we're going to restart that and just go dig back and continue the investigation. Because there's more there.
AUSTERMUHLEWell, what I --
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Excuse me, Martin. Brianne Nadeau, on this show, said that she would do -- she said she would move immediately to start the process to expel him again. Here's a quirk of the election the June 2nd primary is for the next four-year term. There's a special election June 16th, two weeks later, which is just to fill out the term.
SHERWOODAnd which he would -- if he were to win that election, he could be back on the council by late June. And the question is: would you try to move to expel him during that four or five-month period? It may take that long to restart the investigation, have the public hearings, have the votes. Or would you let him finish out that and then be gone? If he loses the four-year election, but wins the one to finish the term, which is like six more months.
ALLENI think it's a pretty unlikely scenario that the voters wouldn't -- you know, if they choose someone else, which I think they will, I think it's an unlikely scenario they would then, two weeks later, all of a sudden have that person, and have Jack fill out that term.
SHERWOODThe difference is that the election is different. In June 2nd, only Democrats can vote. In June 16th, Independents and Republicans in Ward 2 can vote.
ALLENWell, I agree. I still think it's an unlikely scenario. But if that were to play out that way, obviously, that's something that the remaining members of the council would have to consider. It would be coming right up on our legislative recess, where no action can be taken anyway, from essentially mid-July to mid-September.
AUSTERMUHLEI think the one interesting thing -- one interesting point that came up was a couple of the candidates said, grappling with this question about overturning initiatives, and whether, you know, Evans, if he's reelected, should be booted back off the council.
AUSTERMUHLEThey said, well, there's a difference between if he gets 50-plus percent of the vote, and Chairman Mendelson said the same thing, recently. He said, "Listen, if Jack Evans is reelected with 95 percent of the vote," which, again, most likely will not happen, that would make him think differently than if he wins with 12 percent of the vote in a divided field, which is what we have.
AUSTERMUHLEAnd just to get back to the other candidates, because they were there too, I think one interesting point and one powerful point was when Kishan Putta, which is an ANC commissioner, he's running for the Ward 2 seat, he mentioned -- he basically said he was going to term-limit himself. Whatever you think about term limits, he committed to it.
AUSTERMUHLEAnd then he used that and pointed at Evans and said, "Jack Evans helped overturn a voter initiative, what, two decades ago, that would have imposed term limits on councilmembers." So, that was one moment where it was like it was a clever way to get at Evans and say he's done something wrong, and I will do something better than him.
SHERWOODDo you think --
NNAMDI(overlapping) Tom Sherwood said that nobody would remember when I said that Newt Gingrich and the Republicans back in the last century decided on term limits on their Contract with America, and then when they got into office, somehow forgot that they were in favor --
AUSTERMUHLE(laugh) Funny how that happens.
SHERWOOD-- of term limits. But since you mentioned it, Martin, and there were other candidates last night, let me give you all of their names. Brooke Pinto, John Fanning, Daniel Hernandez, Jordan Grossman, Patrick Kennedy, Kishan Putta, Yilin Zhang. Of course, we mentioned Jack Evans, and the Republican, Katherine Venice. Anything stood out about any of the other candidates to you?
SHERWOODWell, a lot of the candidates simply aren't known, and so they're working very hard to get known. I was surprised, I don't recall -- and being a moderator, you can't her every word they say, because you're busy for the next question. Maybe Martin would know. I don't remember one of the candidates saying what their website address was.
SHERWOODI'm so used to that now. And some of them, you know, a couple of the candidates barely look up when they talk to the audience. One, in particular, never looked up. And so they're all still finding their feet. That's one thing about Jack Evans, he knows how to participate in a forum, and so his experience showed there. But, of the eight candidates, probably I would think four would be real competitors.
AUSTERMUHLEAnd it's -- really quick, it's just really tough. They're all Democrats, they all generally agreed on most of the issues. I mean, clearing homeless encampments, everybody said no, don't clear them unless you have housing for the folks experiencing homelessness. On whether there should be parking taken away so the city can run more buses, just about all of them said yes, but.
AUSTERMUHLEThey said it's all context-specific. So, if I was a voter that went in there not knowing who I like, I walked out of there saying okay, they all agree on the fundamentals, so this is going to come down to what they've done in the past, if I know them, and do I like them personally.
NNAMDIThere is one Republican, she will participate in the general -- in the election on --
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Katherine Venice --
SHERWOOD-- will be the Republican. She made her first public appearance last night, also.
NNAMDIAnd you can tell I may have been a bit surprised when she refused to reveal why she had never voted in the district before.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) I'm hoping either the Logan Circle Association or (word?), or both of them, will put the -- I think there was a videotaping of it, or -- I hope they put that on their website, so people can look at it.
AUSTERMUHLEAnd they said written answers, too, will be posted on their website.
NNAMDIGotta take a short break. When we come back, Charles Allen will be on the hotseat for a proposal he now has before the council. (laugh) If you have questions or comments about that proposal, which involves having an allowance of $100 per month for each resident of the District of Columbia to ride Metro, you can start calling now: 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Later in the broadcast, we'll be talking with Dr. Travis Gayles, the public health services officer for Montgomery County. Joining us in studio now is D.C. Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen. This week, you unveiled the Metro for D.C. Amendment Act of 2020. This bill has two parts. one would put funding toward improving bus service, and another would give district residents $100 per month on a SmarTrip card. Tell us about Metro for D.C., and how it would work.
ALLENWell, thanks so much. It's really a plan we've been working on for quite some time. And, really, I've had a chance to look at and learn from other cities around the country. And, really, it's two sides of the same coin. First is we need to make a significant investment in our public transit, and in particular for the neighborhoods that had the least access to reliable service, but often are the ones who actually pay the most for that service.
ALLENAnd that's the first thing this does, is creates a transit equity fund that would pour $10 million each year into improving bus service, in particular probably in the eastern half of the city, mostly, but really in those neighborhoods that are most bus-dependent. You take a look at our Metro system today -- I, like about 180,000 D.C. residents, rode Metro today. Of all the buses running across the entire region for the entire Metro system, 50 percent of the riders today were D.C. residents.
ALLENWe know that our bus is an important way that D.C. residents move around, get around, and it's a way on which they depend to get to work, to get to school, to get to the doctor's office. So, we need to do a better job of improving bus service, and that's step one.
ALLENStep two is to create a transit subsidy. If you're like me and believe that public transit is a public good, then we need to be having people be able to afford to ride. And what this would do is create a $100-a-month subsidy. Every D.C. resident would have the ability to sign up for this. It works like -- a few employers already have a similar program, where at the end of the month your balance comes up to $100.
ALLENA hundred dollars a month, for most people, will actually cover a lot of their transportation on Metro. It's a significant and transformative investment in working families. Let's imagine for a second you're a working family, two parents, maybe two adult children, but a household of four.
ALLENThis is up to $5,000 a year. When we're fighting things like housing affordability, childcare costs, imagine what $5,000 in your household does. It's transformative. I think that's why we've seen so many people come on board and get excited about this idea, and what it can do for our city and for our residents across the board.
SHERWOODWho would manage it? I mean, I'm a District citizen. I want the $100 a month --
NNAMDIWell, can any resident get the $100?
NNAMDIOr are there some people who are excluded?
ALLENThis is for all D.C. residents. It would be administered by the Department of Transportation. But let's take a look at, for example, somebody who's a federal employee and already has a substantial federal subsidy. Probably like you, like me, you've walked behind somebody at the turnstile and you see a balance of like $1,000 on their card as they swipe through. The federal subsidy --
NNAMDI(overlapping) I don't peek at other people's cards. (laugh)
SHERWOODSounds like a reporter.
ALLENYou've never gone through during rush hour. So, the balance just accrues and accumulates --
SHERWOODIn the federal system.
ALLEN-- so -- on the federal system. So, for a federal employee, for exactly, the D.C. subsidy would come in after that. So, we're not trying to replace federal dollars that come into that.
SHERWOODWell, the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute has, as you probably have seen, has put out a pretty scathing -- they like a lot of things, I think, you've done, but they put out a scathing thing about that this is not a good idea, that your funding mechanism is essentially to say, okay, the city's growing, we're getting more revenue than we're planning, and all this future revenue will help pay for this, your bus and rail, the $100 plan.
SHERWOODBut they're saying that you're -- and I'm just going to read a couple of quick things. "The bill makes no room for using newly available funds for homelessness, childcare, other initiatives in the city," that they call it a "budget gimmick," that "It seizes all the future revenues in a way that can't be used any way else, and it short-changes the budget process by not putting it into the mix of all the things that need to be decided on how the city should spend its money." Your response?
ALLENWell, you know, it's unfortunate to see --
SHERWOOD(overlapping) And you've seen the --
SHERWOODThis is not new to you, is it?
ALLENNo, it's not new, but it is still incorrect. (laugh) We go through a process. So, very disappointed to see them talk about something around a gimmick. Obviously, this is a bill that's just been introduced. We go through budget -- we go through a legislative hearing, we go through a budget process. But it seems like a misunderstanding of how the budget works.
ALLENSo, when we have -- we have two things. We have revenue increases, and we have surplus. And the way that we're funding this is through revenue increases. We have --
SHERWOOD(overlapping) What if you don't get the revenue increases?
ALLENWell, when you're having a strategy that builds on revenue increases, then that's what you're counting on, right? So, the way this works is that you build this out and you plan for it within the budget, much like everything we do. It's the exact same as looking at homeless services and housing and all the other priorities that we focus on.
ALLENWe're just identifying what the mechanism is. And then, as revenue increases, as it has continued to do, because the city is in great health and we continue to grow, as new revenues come in that are built into the fiscal plan, then we're able to build this in. The legislation also phases it so that those that need transit the most are the ones that are going to be getting this benefit the first. But one way to try --
NNAMDIWhat happens if growth --
ALLENOne way to try to think about it might be --
NNAMDIWhat happens if growth slows?
SHERWOODYeah, subject -- is this subject to appropriations, that famous legislative word?
ALLENIt's not subject to appropriations.
ALLENWhat it does, it counts on the revenue, as it increases.
SHERWOODBut if -- as Kojo just said, what if the revenue -- we're in a horrible --
SHERWOOD-- downturn right now, in terms of economy. What if the revenues don't keep coming in?
ALLENNo, the stock market is down right now. The District's economy is actually very good. But we also are always watching that. But if our economy, for whatever reason, were to slip and to decrease, then we're going to make decisions around this, just like we would on every other priority. We will be in a position to have to make a choice around this.
NNAMDIThis is --
ALLENBut let me give one quick example --
NNAMDIPlease go ahead.
ALLEN-- because I think this is an important element.
ALLENThink about it this way. You think about your household budget. If you get a pay raise or a bonus, when you get a bonus, you get that one-time money. That's like a surplus, from the District's standpoint. When you get a pay raise, that is more than what you were bringing in, and that pay raise is now built into your household budget. The way this functions is the way that we budget everything, where we plan for it, we build it into a fiscal plan, and we plan for it as revenue increases.
SHERWOODBut if a low-income family has three people who are eligible for this and they get $300 a month for their transportation needs, and maybe they get -- someone gets a job somewhere else where they can get to, and then, suddenly, if the revenues don't keep growing, once a benefit is given to people, no matter what it is, it's very hard to take it away. At some point, would you worry that well, the revenue's not growing, and so therefore, we're going to have to take this back from you?
ALLENNo. The way this works is that as the revenues increase, much like every other thing we fund, it gets baked into the budget. Now, let's say that the budget were to somehow downturn --
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Say, like, in 2007 and '08 and '09 --
ALLEN-- and we're making decisions on everything --
SHERWOOD-- where revenues collapsed.
ALLENYeah. And we would have to be in a place where we're making hard choices around either raising taxes or cutting services. But that's not singling out any one project. Those are decisions we'll have to make around how we look at all of our shared priorities. But it's very disingenuous to say that, somehow, other priorities aren't being taken care of.
ALLENLet me give you one more example when we look at the funding. On the high end of what the funding estimates would be for this program, looking at just the revenue estimates that have come in, if we had passed a bill like this a year ago, so if we had passed this and we started it in June 2019, based on the increase in revenue estimates that have already been coming in over the last four quarters, we would have fully funded and fully implemented Metro for D.C., and we'd have about 100, $200 million left over for additional priorities.
ALLENSo, to say that somehow this forecloses one or another is not a correct statement. But, also, we need to recognize that people have very important needs to be able to get around their city. We can do --
SHERWOOD(overlapping) It's fundamental, whether you're going home, going to work, going to any community event. It's fundamental.
ALLENTransportation is a very significant cost to being able to live in our city, just as childcare is, and housing. We have to balance many priorities. But for too long, we have not funded transit. We have not focused on the way in which people get around. We learned that lesson when we went through this debate over a year ago, talking about fare evasion, right?
ALLENAt the time, fare evasion, the consequence was a criminal consequence. We moved it to make it a civil consequence. We want people to pay their fare, but we said you've got to have a consequence that matches that. What did we also learn during that process? The Metro data that they shared with us, nine out of the top 10 bus routes ran through low-income neighborhoods. Do we really believe that there's something about a low-income neighborhood that has wanton lawlessness? No, it's a function of economics.
NNAMDI(overlapping) You mentioned --
ALLENAnd so let's recognize that.
NNAMDIYou mentioned fare evasion. NBC 4's Adam Tuss tweeted that sources told him that it was Metro general manager Paul Wiedefeld who suggested this idea as a way around decriminalizing fare evasion in D.C. True or false?
ALLENI have not had a conversation with the general manager to that effect, but I am thrilled to hear so many people wanting to jump in and support an idea like this. I think it's why we've had support from businesses that recognize that the more people we move onto transit -- be that Metro bus, Metro rail, our circulator routes, D.C. Access -- it is better for our business, it is better for employees. We have labor unions that have come out in support of this already.
NNAMDIYou should know that, obviously, not everyone wants to support it. We got an email from Neal, who says: on Charles Allen's absurd free Metro proposal, the most liked comment by far on the Washington Post website regarding the free Metro for D.C. residents proposal was, quoting here, "It's a good start,. There should also be free avocados on alternate Thursdays." So, obviously, he's being very sarcastic, because he doesn't like it.
ALLENI like avocados, too.
NNAMDIBut, more seriously, here is Janine in Washington, D.C. Janine, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JANINEThank you. I like the idea of your improving the bus route. The problem with the allowance, though, is if you don't have a bus to ride, then you can't get an allowance. And the proposal by Metro to eliminate the E6, which is where I am, we have no buses in my neighborhood on the weekends. We have the M4 and the E6 during the week, but they're planning on combining the M4 with the E6. So, there'll be no way for us, in our neighborhood -- and we're more than a mile-and-a-half away from the closest subway -- to get to Friendship Heights.
SHERWOODWhat's your neighborhood?
JANINEIt's Barnaby Woods by Knollwood. Our area, this area, well, both Ward 4, which I'm in, and Ward 3, have the highest percentage of seniors -- among the highest percentage of seniors in the city. And eliminating some of these buses, I mean, here we are -- we've just gotten -- allegedly become an age-friendly city, but here we are cutting off buses for seniors. And I hope that one of your top priorities, you know, if this goes anywhere, is to make sure we get buses first, so that we can get somewhere.
NNAMDIOkay. Charles Allen.
ALLENYeah. Well, thank you, Janine. And she is spot on. There's two key elements here that I think that address that. One of the things that we looked at when we looked at cities across the country that are also looking at this challenge and trying to find solutions, that's why this proposal specifically includes a fund that looks at improving bus service. Because she is -- Janine's entirely correct, that if I give you $100 a month subsidy, but you don't have the bus, you don't have the service to be able to ride it, then I'm not really accomplishing what I want.
ALLENAnd so that's a really important element and, again, I mentioned this, it has two sides to this coin. The other part of this is, let's take a look at WMATA right now. Over the last several years, we've seen ridership declines, both on rail and on bus. The good news is rail is starting to rebound, and it came up this year for the first time in a while.
ALLENBus ridership, however, continues to decline. We have to stop that spiral, because as WMATA has fewer revenues, or has less financial stability, they start making hard decisions. And what we see, the frontline, almost every time, is going to be bus service reductions.
SHERWOODThat's the issue. There's something like a 20 percent bus service cut.
ALLENExactly, which is why you've got to find a proposal that starts to make sure that we are funding WMATA in a stronger way. So, this is good for D.C. residents, because they have this benefit. It's good for D.C. residents because we're improving service. It is also good for WMATA, because we want to stabilize their finances and make sure that they are not in a position -- you've got to do something to interrupt this cycle that continues between declining ridership and then cutting service, because that only continues to spiral unless we stop it.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Can you -- excuse me -- can you tell us, who is a citizen of the District who would be eligible for this? You know, we have a problem -- and it may be a small part, from what you're talking about -- but, you know, we have people that have fake addresses in the District so their kids can go to D.C. Public Schools. People have fake addresses for a variety of reasons. But how would the Department of Transportation know, I'm a citizen, or Kojo's a citizen?
NNAMDIWhat would stop a Maryland or Virginia resident from getting their hands on one of these cards?
ALLENWell, first off, this is for D.C. residents. So, we already have systems, of course, whether you want to talk about Medicaid, DCPS or others, we have programs that look at residency verification. Yes, there's the occasional outlier, but if you look at residency fraud in Medicaid, we don't really have much of it.
ALLENIf you look at residency fraud within DCPS, the attorney general's had some very high-profile cases, but they are outliers. So, we do a pretty good job of verifying residents. We have the office of tax and revenue. We have a lot of places that can do this and do it well, already.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) If you're not on a...
ALLENAnd that's why you want to have it within government, such as DDOT, so they can rely on their sister agencies.
NNAMDI(overlapping) Here's Russell in Rockville. Russell, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RUSSELLHi. Thanks, Kojo. So, I just wanted to say that I think this legislation is a great idea. If you look at what the council's done recently with decriminalizing fare evasion, you have a direct comparison of a case study of what New York City did with deciding to do the opposite and crack down on fare evasion. And that's turned out really ugly, with a lot of social unrest. So, I think going in this direction, taking the pressure off of working class families in the District is a great idea, and I applaud it. Thank you.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. The other situation we're facing right now -- and we'll talk later with the public health services officer from Montgomery County -- is, of course, Coronavirus. And Deidra tweets: how is it possible that the D.C. Council is considering giving free Metro to people regardless of income? And D.C. Public Schools is now asking parents to donate hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes, because they don't have enough to fight Coronavirus?
ALLENWell, you know, I'm a DCPS parent myself. You know, it irritates me when, at the beginning of each school year, I'm given a list of stacks of copy paper, wipes, all the things that we should be funding our schools with in the classroom, and we put that onus on parents. And, of course, we know what happens is, some parents in some school communities will have those resources and parents who can make those donations, and others don't.
ALLENThis gets back to a fundamental issue for me of how do we best fund our schools and put more resources into the classroom and at the school level decision, whether that's with our local school budgeting. Whether that's with our at-risk funding, we've got to put more funding, more supports and more decision-making down at the school level, because having to ask a parent to bring in some hand sanitizer is unacceptable. That should be something that our school system should be able to provide and should pay for.
SHERWOODI want to, if we can, make clear, your plan is going to be phased in, unless it's going to be income-based. Is that how you -- what's the basis for phasing it in before you allow it to go to the entire population?
ALLENWell, you know, we debated and wrestled with it a little bit as we were constructing this. Should this be a benefit for everybody, or do you means test this, you know? And so the legislation is for every D.C. resident, but what we do is, from a financing perspective, as available resources come in, as those revenues increase, then those who need the support the most are the first. They get the benefit.
ALLENBut let me address the issue around means testing. When we think about this -- and how do we make sure that we're trying to do the best we can? On one hand, there's a couple of reasons. Whether you care about congestion or carbon, you want to support something like this, because the more people that we move onto transit, the more that we can help ease congestion for those that are going to be in a car.
ALLENWe know, the more people we move onto transit, the better we can do in terms of meeting our climate goals. But one of the things that bothers me a lot is when we talk about transit. I don't means test your road. I don't means test your sidewalk. If you're like me and you believe that public transit is a public good, then that means it is good for everybody to be on this. Whether that's because you believe it's great for the economy and economic development. Whether you believe it's the right thing to do for working families. Whether you're concerned from an environmental perspective, whether you just want your car commute to be a little bit less, because you've got more people riding on buses.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) If that's the case, why not fund it for everyone at the start, then? Rather than waiting on future revenues, why don't you just change the budget to fund it for everyone, if it's not means tested?
ALLENBecause that's what this does. As these revenues increase -- which is what our budget is built on. Our budget is built on a revenue increase. Every year, that's what's planned for. It phases that in. If we're able to have enough revenue increase that everybody goes at once, that's a great thing, and we'll make that happen.
ALLENThere's one more point on this. I think this is an important element to this. You know, I don't like it when we want to say that we want to make our neighbors that are low-income jump through hoops to be able to get a benefit, because it can have an effect that is humiliating and degrading. Every month, I get phone calls from constituents in Ward 6 that are calling and trying to help navigate recertifying on income, because they're trying to make sure that they've got their foot stamps. Trying to make sure they have their housing assistance. We shouldn't have barriers like that for something we believe is a public good.
NNAMDI(overlapping) Only got about 30 seconds left.
SHERWOODChairman Mendelson suggested that he's concerned that there's a popular opinion that only poor people ride buses, when that's not the case. Would this exasperate it if you just allow poor people to get the $100 things, rather than giving it to everyone?
ALLENI think so. I think it says something about what our values are. I ride the bus almost every day, and I see my city on the bus. For a long time, we've tried to treat the bus as something for other, and I don't think that's right. The bus is for everybody, and we do better as a city when we make that happen.
NNAMDICharles Allen is a member of the D.C. Council, representing Ward 6. He is a Democrat. Thank you so much for joining us.
ALLENThanks so much for having me.
NNAMDINext up is Dr. Travis Gayles, the public health services officer for Montgomery County's Department of Health and Human Services. Montgomery County is where three people have been identified as having the Coronavirus. So, if you have questions or comments for Dr. Gayles, start calling now, 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Joining us now by phone is Dr. Travis Gayles, public health services officer from Montgomery County's Department of Health and Human Services. Dr. Gayles, thank you for joining us.
TRAVIS GAYLESGood afternoon. Thank you for having me.
NNAMDILast night, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan announced that three Montgomery County residents have contracted the Coronavirus. How has Montgomery County prepared for a potential outbreak of the virus, and is the county changing its approach in the wake of last night's news?
GAYLESSure. So, the governor announced last night there were three cases. And I want to emphasize that all of those cases are doing well, clinically, and have responded to rest and supportive care. So, we began preparing for this potential situation back in January, when the first cases were being reported in China. And we started meeting internally, as well as with our regional partners in the D.C. area and the northern Virginia area, as well as our colleagues across the state of Maryland.
GAYLESWe've had a series of conversations and practice exercises, making sure that other relevant agencies within the government were also prepared and working on contingency and continuation of operation plans. And, as recently as Tuesday, we provided a thorough briefing to our county council in terms of the steps of what we did. We didn't anticipate, necessarily, that we'd have to put those plans into action so quickly, but we are ready, prepared, and hopefully we'll have a good handle on things.
SHERWOODDr. Gayles, Tom Sherwood, here. The legislature today , if it hasn't already, was planning to pass a bill to allow the governor to spend up to $50 million. Can you give us a sense of what Montgomery is spending and exactly what you're spending it for?
GAYLESWell, it's important to emphasize of a notion of disease control are things that we do every day already. We have great staffs that are highly experienced. And they already do a lot of this work in a number of other areas, whether we're talking about sexually transmitted infections, tuberculosis, HIV, so on and so forth. So, part of that money is continuing the work that we do in those areas and leveraging that expertise to be able to go out and do some of the work, as it relates to COVID-19, such as participating in the contacts racing investigation. They can be timely, in terms of getting a full scope of all of the different contacts an individual may have come into contact with.
GAYLESWe need support people in terms of being able to staff and man the phones in Disease Control to answer all the questions, whether they're coming from the community or health care providers. And so those are just some examples of where the funds can go. And, certainly, the other area is continuing to increase the ability to test effectively in the community and make sure those opportunities are available.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Let me follow up by asking the fear factor. You briefly addressed it, I think, but fear factor. You know, there are lots of events this weekend in Montgomery County. The Brookside Gardens' open house. There's a big sorority event in Bethesda. I think that there's a Celebrate Bethesda. What is your advice to people in Montgomery County about what to do? I know hand-washing is the biggest thing, but to people this weekend and all the events going on in Montgomery County.
GAYLESWell, based upon the information we have so far and investigations that have happened into those cases, it's important to note that the three cases are tied to travel. There is no information that we have available right now to suggest that there's any evidence or incidence of community transmission within the jurisdiction. And so, as a result, we're continuing to investigate those cases in terms of contacts, but we're not changing our recommendations or suggesting that events need to be closed.
GAYLESNow, certainly, we are recommending to people to continue to perform good hand hygiene. And if you are sick or feeling symptoms, regardless of the cause, you know, maybe think twice about attending the event, because we want to, you know, limit exposure to other people who may have symptoms.
NNAMDIDr. Gayles, the three confirmed cases were tested at the state's public health laboratory in Baltimore. Why is it significant that these tests are now being done locally, rather than at the CDC?
GAYLESYeah. So, one of the great benefits of being able to have the tests done more locally is it cuts down on the window within which we have to wait. So, you can imagine you're in a jurisdiction, you have to ship your samples to the state lab, and then have to have them shipped to the CDC. So, it can cut down on the time from within which an individual is tested to getting a result.
GAYLESAnd, as you can imagine, cutting down that window and knowing one way or another can be significant in terms of if the person is positive, being able to initiate and do the contact investigation to potentially cut down on potential spread. Or, conversely, if they're negative, it gives the individual a quicker peace of mind to know that their symptoms aren't related to this.
SHERWOODIs there a simple website for Montgomery County or a government site that someone can go to to get up-to-date information?
GAYLESYes. So, we have multiple websites. The county has a website, the state has a website and the CDC has a website as well. And, forgive me, I've been from meetings, I don't have the exact website at hand but...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) We can Google it.
GAYLES...the county has a website that has been operational since late January after we began these initial conversations about mounting a response.
NNAMDIAt a press conference this morning, you said that the county is not going to close government offices or county schools, but all of this is subject to change. Does the Montgomery County government, at this point, have a plan, if it does decide to close government buildings?
GAYLESYeah. So, as part of the contingency planning that we initiated starting weeks ago and has escalated over the last two weeks, given the increase in cases popping up in new places, each department has been asked to review their preparedness plan, as well as, with the direction of the county executive's office, have been encouraged to make sure that they have a continuation of operations plan in place. Thinking through a whole host of scenarios, you know, in the event, worst case scenario, buildings and businesses have to be closed.
GAYLESSo, each of the different departments across the county including the school system have been thinking very critically and thoughtfully about all of those different questions, should we need to change our approach in the county.
NNAMDID.C. Councilmember Charles Allen is still in studio with us. And, Charles Allen, I know that public health is your academic specialty. What do you know about preparations in D.C. in terms of government workers and schools?
ALLENWell, I've been on the phone with the director of Homeland Security and our deputy mayor for public safety and justice throughout the week, checking in and making sure we're prepared and, hence, the coordination. I think the mayor's been doing a very good job of pulling all those players together. For any D.C. residents or D.C. businesses that need to find more information, you can go to coronavirus.dc.gov, where there's a helpful piece of information that's also being updated regularly as new information comes in.
ALLENIt's also got just the commonsense recommendations that we all need to be taking, such as the hand washing and really encouraging people, if you are feeling sick, stay at home. But that's really a great source of information, and I know that all the partners across D.C. government are staying in very close touch.
NNAMDITravis Gayles, Governor Hogan issued a state of emergency so that resources could be more quickly delivered. How will the county work with state officials moving forward?
GAYLESSo, those conversations and relationships have been pre-formed. For example, I report to the deputy secretary of public health and the secretary of health, so we communicate on a regular basis. So, we'll continue those channels of communication. Additionally, all of the members of the investigative team, as part of the Maryland Department of Health -- particularly in the epidemiology branch -- are in close and constant contact with our disease control staff here.
GAYLESAnd in addition to those communications I mentioned before, you know, I just want to give applause to all of the health officers of the respective jurisdictions in the state of Maryland, as well as the national capital region, who have been a part of those planning conversations and have all reached out and agreed to help us out in case we need.
SHERWOODI was going to ask the councilmember, since he's here, I know he -- I once looked at his calendar and the number of public events on it. This weekend, you'll go out. You have small children, your wife. Are you doing the elbow bump and are you shaking hands? And I'll ask Dr. Travis the same thing. Are you doing -- what do recommend, the toe tap or the elbow bump to greet people?
ALLENI'm still shaking hands and hugging people, but I've noticed the last couple of days, there's a few more elbow bumps that're taking place. And, in particular, if you feel that you might be sick or under the weather, please give me a little elbow bump.
GAYLESI think there's a combination, nods, elbow bump, fist bumps. I think the most important thing is, even if you're shaking hands or doing fist bumps, make sure that you wash your hands consistently to cut down on your risk of exposure.
NNAMDIHas the county considered what the impact of an outbreak would mean for lower-income residents, especially those with no health insurance?
GAYLESYeah, so that's part of our contingency planning. We have been working very closely with our safety net clinics who participate in our safety net program through the county and working to get a better understanding of what their potential needs may be for their staff. But also working very carefully with them to figure out algorithms in terms of if they have a patient, where should they go and how should they access care, should they not have insurance or be concerned about the payment. So, we've been working on that over the last several weeks and will continue to discuss, again, potentially, as we may have more people necessitating testing.
NNAMDIWell, Tom Sherwood mentioned earlier about the anxiety. Here's the level of anxiety. We are getting tweets and emails and phone calls from people who want to know where the people who have been diagnosed with Coronavirus, where they live, what hospitals they visited, where they've traveled, what towns in Montgomery County have been exposed to Coronavirus. People think that that's important information. Is that important information that people need?
GAYLESWell, it's important information for the public health officials who are conducting the contact investigation. So, they're able to get a full scope of the level of interactions that the cases have had and the places that they've gone. As far as it relates to the general public, we've been very careful about sharing all of the details, because we also, as we balance and make sure that we inform the public, we also have to make sure that we balance the issues of privacy and protect the privacy of the individuals involved.
GAYLESSo, I can assure you, from our county's perspective, any information that we're putting out has been very carefully thought about, looked into and fact-checked to make sure it's accurate, and it's also timely, but it's also respectful of respecting the privacy of other individuals.
SHERWOODAnd if people who want to get tested, you know, we are in the flu season. Of course, the flu is demonstrably more dangerous, at this point, than this virus. But if people are not feeling well and they want to be tested, what do you recommend that they do in Montgomery County in Maryland?
GAYLESWell, we do still have kind of a clinical algorithm in place. So, if an individual is concerning for symptoms, we're asking them to call their medical provider to get guidance. And then after speaking with them and having an exam or having a discussion, the provider is to reach out to the local health department or the state health department to have a deeper conversation to figure out if the individual truly is at risk, based upon all of the information that we have so far, to inform whether or not they need to get tested. And, you know, to determine whether or not the Coronavirus test needs to be a part of any other panel that they're getting tested to explain their symptoms.
SHERWOODThis sounds like grammar school, but when you say wash your hands, what does that really mean?
GAYLESIt means wetting your hands, scrubbing those hands for at least 20 seconds.
SHERWOODHot water, cold water, does it matter?
GAYLESClean water. (laugh) That's the most important thing. And then when you're drying your hands, taking the towel and -- if you've got to turn off the faucet or open a door -- using a towel to do that so you don't cross contaminate your hands after you wash them.
SHERWOODEven in your own home, your private home. Wow. That's more detail than I -- I didn't realize that.
NNAMDIHow about people who are feeling, well, how can I put this, overly anxious? What should they do? What do you recommend?
GAYLESWell, you know, it's natural. And as we talked about in the press conference this morning, there needs to be a space to acknowledge those fears and anxiety. They are well-founded, because there are a lot of cases and there's lots of information flying back and forth. And it can be tricky to understand what's real versus not real.
GAYLESAnd so what we're encouraging folks to do is to say yes, we do have cases. They are travel-related. They are not examples of community transmission that we have seen in other areas that have spread into outbreaks. At this point we don't have any information to suggest that COVID-19 is hanging out in the community and you walk by it and you pick it up.
GAYLESSo, we're encouraging people to go on about their daily lives, and also reminding folks that the burden of disease, if you were to contract it, the overwhelming majority of cases have been mild to moderate. Folks have, you know, experienced symptoms for a number -- a short period of days, and then have recovered and rebounded well.
NNAMDIAfraid that's all the time we have. Dr. Travis Gayles, thank you so much for joining us.
GAYLESOh, thank you, sir. Always a pleasure.
NNAMDICharles Allen, thank you for sticking around.
ALLENThanks for having me.
NNAMDIToday's show was produced by Cydney Grannan and Julie Depenbrock. Coming up Monday on The Kojo Nnamdi Show, when a Hagerstown man lost his daughter to an opioid overdoes, he put his grief into action. He joins us to talk about Brooke's House, the home he founded to help women struggling with addiction. Plus, Maryland considers a ban of single-use plastic bags. That all starts at noon, on Monday. Until then, what do you plan on doing, Tom?
SHERWOODI'm going to go to Chinese restaurants to support Chinese businesses that are hurting because of this virus.
NNAMDIThat is exactly true. That's an excellent idea. Have a wonderful weekend, all. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
With policies and programs ending that were helping tenants, are we heading toward an avalanche of evictions in the D.C. region?
President Donald Trump declared meat packing plants and their workers "essential." So what protections have been put in place to ensure the safety of workers in Delmarva's $3.5 billion chicken industry?
The D.C. Council's emergency police reform bans chokeholds and the use of pepper spray on peaceful protesters. But D.C. Auditor Kathy Patterson says these and other proposed measures are already on the books.