City Paper is not for tourists
Tomorrow’s the monthly D.C. Council legislative meeting. This morning, Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray held his usual preview press conference. Here’s the rundown:
- Vince Gray Punctuality Watch: The presser kicked off at 9:42 a.m.—-12 minutes late. Getting better, Mr. Chairman!
- Things kicked off with a presentation from At-Large Councilmember David A. Catania on his “Healthy DC” universal-health-care plan. The meat of the policy proposal is to provide an affordable health insurance option for a relatively small part of the city populace: the approximately 25,000 uninsured folks who make too much to be eligible for Medicaid or the D.C. Healthcare Alliance program. Will spare the details, but the costs are intended to be no more than 3 percent of annual income for participants, with a District subsidy covering the rest.
Along with the bridge insurance program comes a requirement that all District residents over 18 years of age be continuously insured. Anyone filing a D.C. tax return will be required to check a box attesting they’re insured. Enforcement is still vague; Catania said liars could be prosecuted for tax fraud—-another option, he says, would be to cross-reference all emergency-room visitors with their tax returns.
How is it being paid for? Under Catania’s proposal, the individuals are expected to bear a little more than half of the cost through monthly premiums. As for the remainder, a new 2 percent premium tax on HMOs raises a chunk, and taxes paid by CareFirst, the local Blue Cross licensee, takes care of most of the rest. Also kicking in, but not directly: A doubling of the District’s excise tax on cigarettes, from $1 to $2.
The plan is scheduled to kick in on July 1, 2009; Gray said he hopes to hold a hearing on the plan before the end of the budget season.
- Looks like Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry‘s plan to rename the Southeast-Southwest Freeway and part of Maine Avenue SW after Martin Luther King isn’t going anywhere fast. Said Gray: “I have a number of concerns about that…as well as a number of my colleagues….I think this is one of those where I think I will have a hearing.”
- Gray did his monthly update on the council’s investigation into the tax scandal. Yet again: “There really isn’t a great deal to say at this stage.” He did say all the relevant documents have been scanned and that the District’s investigators from Wilmer Hale and PricewaterhouseCoopers have begun doing interviews.
- Your latest example of exec-leg friction: Gray’s moving an emergency bill called the “Fiscal Year 2009 Budget Transparency Emergency Act of 2008.” Does that mean the mayor’s budget is lacking in transparency? Says Gray: “We think there could be more transparency”—-especially, he says, when it comes to the movement of money within government agencies. “We believe we need more information.”
- The comprehensive annual financial report (CAFR) still isn’t here. This year’s model, prepared by BDO Seidman, was delayed by the tax scandal and recently the firm agitated for more money due to the scandal’s complexity. Still, the report was due last Friday. Gray said he wasn’t aware that BDO Seidman’s money squabbles had contributed to the delay and said he expected to have the report in hand “later today on the outside.”
- The council will be voting on emergency vending regs that will allow vendors to set up outside Nationals Park; following the normal procedure, says Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, could take three months or more.
- At-Large Councilmember Carol Schwartz plans to introduce a bill allowing 17-year-olds to register to vote, Gray said. (Schwartz, along with several colleagues, was absent to attend the funeral of Ward 8 politico Percy Battle.) To be clear: you still have to be 18 to actually cast a vote, but the bill would give you a head start on registering to do so.
- Cheh and Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham are introducing an emergency bill to close the vacancy loophole in the city’s tenant-right-to-purchase law recently highlighted by a Washington Post series.
- The council is expected to pass a ceremonial resolution honoring former Ward 6 Councilmember Sharon Ambrose. Also on the consent agenda: renaming the 2500 block of 12th Place SE “E.W. Stevenson Boulevard”; renaming the 1600 block of Newton Street NW “the Rev. M. Cecil Mills Way”; renaming the 3rd District police substation at 750 Park Road NW the “Gerard W. Burke Jr. Building”; renaming the Benning Road bridge the “Ethel Kennedy Bridge”; renaming the 600 block of F Street NW “Abe Pollin Way”; renaming the auditorium at Banneker Senior High School the “Dr. Vincent E. Reed Auditorium.”
- Graham is moving a bill that will authorize city parking cops to use automatic plate scanners to issue street-sweeping tickets without having to have a city employee print out the tickets individually on foot. You’ll get your tickets in the mail, like with the speeding and red-light cameras.