Elected officials don’t have to be corrupt for citizens to lose confidence in them. They can sometimes just not have their priorities straight. Here are a couple examples from recent days:
1. Getting rid of a swath of special purpose funds. Michael Neibauer reported last week that the 2011 and 2012 budgets yanked more than $1.5 million total from a green building fund generated by charging 0.002 cents per square foot on all construction permit fees. The fund was supposed to pay for technical assistance, training, and outreach around the District’s green building laws, but no staff have been hired, perhaps because there’s no telling whether the money will actually be there next year to pay their salaries.
The other problem is that, like the attempt to divert the bag tax proceeds to something unrelated to Anacostia River cleanup, breaking these kinds of budget promises sours people on paying taxes in the first place. “It’s easy to understand why many developers now view the green building fee as nothing more than a general tax on their projects,” Neibauer writes.
If the green building fund is truly necessary, it should be used for its intended purposes. If not, it should be abolished—-or perhaps folded into another tax—-not used as a slush fund.
2. Not using public facilities that provide essential services for lack of relatively low operational costs. The Council’s inability to find what Tommy Wells says is $320,000 to keep the Martin Luther King Library open for even five hours on Sundays is a travesty. As the Post describes today, it’s one of the most important times of week for people who need to do homework or research, look for jobs, or just watch Redskins games. The District already has a third place problem, and all of the branch libraries—-even the pricey new ones—-already lie dormant on Sundays. At least one safe haven and resource center should be open every day of the week, and for elected leaders to not recognize that essential function of government reflects a pretty poor sense of what’s really important.