Lots of talk about the increasing difficulty for many to afford living in one of the most expensive cities in America dominates political discussion in D.C. It’s for good reason, as thousands of lower-income residents have continued moving out of the District and others struggle to stay.
The question is whether policies promoted by local politicians and performance provided by local government helps or hinders the viability to remain among those most on the financial edge.
Unfortunately for those struggling to economically survive in Washington, too many misguided proposals and mismanaged services exacerbate the effects of income inequality and drive people away.
While government possesses extremely limited abilities to address systemic obstacles or improve economic outcomes, local politicians believe the opposite to be true. What is not acknowledged is that failing to do a good job at what they actually can do while simultaneously hindering the private sector by creating a negative entrepreneurial environment hurts many.
Elected officials try too hard to control and manipulate the business sector, thinking interference in the marketplace is intervention with magic results. The inverse is usually true.
District politicians should instead focus on providing more oversight and better operation of city agencies and programs as an alternative, in the hope it would reduce the dysfunction, mismanagement and waste all too commonly ignored. The entities providing job training and employment assistance, for example, are known nationally to be poor performers providing the least benefit.
Good things have been and are, however, happening here.
In recent years, D.C. accomplished something few thought likely when both individual and business tax rates were lowered. These reductions were phased-in as the population and tax revenues expanded, and surpluses allowed for implementation of the most progressive-stepped tax rate schedule in the country.
Additional tax relief is needed as large surpluses have continued.
The District government now allocates large sums of tax monies for both housing assistance and the creation of affordable housing, as well as housing for the homeless, and proffers a myriad array of public assistance programs.
What officials fail to do, however, is open up enhanced opportunities for both market-rate and workforce housing development and lowering citywide costs through increased supply. Only when the District government stops kowtowing to the they-got-theirs NIMBY groups by allowing greater density in areas currently zoned for single-family housing only and reduces obstacles to residential development in general will sufficient housing units required now and in future years be created. Increasing both placement and supply is the only real solution for easing overall housing costs.
Too many years and billions of bucks later, the city’s public school system remains plagued by problems and produces poor outcomes, especially for those most in need of a solid start. Graduation rates remain abysmal and many of those exiting with a degree often can’t compete with better-educated contemporaries. City schools fail to provide many a quality education, nor prepare for advancement to college or for employment by vocational training.
Yet legislators avert their gaze from a more appropriate in-house focus to an external micro-management of local enterprise. The desire of some on the D.C. Council champing at the bit to push proposals to hyper-regulate even the hiring and scheduling of employees while implementing and imposing additional regulatory costs and more labor burdens on employers will negatively effect those looking for work and seeking economic sustainability.
Over-regulation and extremist operating mandates raise both the price of everything and the costs of living here, most affecting those least able to afford it.
D.C. business tax rates remain among the highest both regionally and nationally, most burdening the local small businesses offering employment opportunities for entry-level and lesser-skilled residents. The city has long been notorious for being among the very worst anti-business jurisdictions nationwide.
Let’s hope that local politicians made New Year resolutions to take a hard and honest look at how they harm those they profess wanting to help.
Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.