DC Chamber Questionnaire

I enjoyed responding to the DC Chamber's candidate questions. You can read my answers below:

1. Below are the DC Chamber’s 2013 Top Priorities. Please address the questions associated with each and provide any additional relevant comments.

A. Making DC the most Business Friendly City in America: DC consistently ranks last among US jurisdictions as “business friendly;” it costs 30% more to do business in DC compared to VA and MD.

i. Would you support requiring legislation to include an economic impact report, including the impact on affected industries and businesses; not just fiscal impact statements limited to the “cost” to the District government?
ii. Would you support lowering any of the fees and taxes that have outperformed revenue projections such as business taxes?
iii. What initiatives to reduce regulatory and tax burden on businesses would you support?
iv. How can we connect the business community to the education and training system(s) to ensure graduates are prepared for the available jobs?
v. What else would you highlight related to this Priority?
   
1. A.
i.
I support measures to enhance DC as a friendly business partner for our local businesses, and I would take a data-driven approach to economic policy. I agree that the DC Council should factor in the economic benefits of legislation, such as how many jobs a certain development or project might bring to the city, what amenities such as retail or restaurants a project might bring to a neighborhood in need of commercial development, and how the project might enhance our tax base in the long run. I am interested in the concept of an economic impact report--and I look forward to hearing from the Office of the Chief Financial Officer’s Office of Revenue Analysis as well as the D.C. Council’s budget office, the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, and the DC Chamber on what such an “economic impact report” would look like. I am a data-driven person, so I am interested in how such a report would be quantified. I think it’s a great idea, and I’d want to make sure that the report is truly analytical and a great tool for a legislator like me to evaluate the public policy pros and cons.

ii.
I am very interested in the recommendations of the D.C. Tax Revision Commission, which is being led by former Mayor Williams. If the commission made the recommendation to lower a tax or fee, I’d be very likely to support such a move.

iii.
I believe an efficient, effective DC government is a first step in reducing costs for businesses. I believe effective oversight of key agencies that interact with our business community is one of the ways I can make DC more business friendly. I will use the power of legislative oversight of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and Office of Tax and Revenue to assess their effectiveness in being immediately responsive to area businesses. Time is money and shortening time frames for required permits would go a long way to reducing business costs. I would also review the upcoming recommendations from Mayor Gray’s business regulatory reform task force and put those into action. I’d also review the last task force report from the Williams administration and see where recommendations have not been implemented and push the Gray administration to do so.

iv.
I believe we need to take a sector-specific approach to workforce development, in which our community college is a key trainer for jobs. Again, I am a data-driven councilmember. We know from data where the jobs will be down the road: health care, hospitality, office administration. Then there are industries that we can grow, such as tech.

We need to develop UDC-CC into a pipeline for jobs. Northern Virginia Community College is doing that in health care and training so many nurses, physician assistants, and administrative staff. And guess what? They remain living in Virginia, paying Virginia taxes, while they work at Georgetown, GW, Washington Hospital Center! We need to compete! I want our health care workers to live and work in DC, and I think that creating effective workforce development programs in this area would help. Same for hospitality, office administration, etc.

v.
There are two programs that I am very interested in championing that I think will improve the business climate in DC: the workforce intermediary and incubators.

I pushed the Gray administration to implement a workforce intermediary, along with DC Appleseed and the DC Employment Justice Center. This concept--essentially a jobs matchmaker--has been effective in other cities and I am very happy Mayor Gray is implementing one here.

I think small businesses are key to our economy. Incubators are a great way of helping entrepreneurs remove barriers like office space, dealing with IT, etc. Both Montgomery County and Fairfax have used incubators effectively and that’s why many small businesses locate out there instead of here. Let’s compete! I want to put more resources into incubators.

B. Increase growth of Small Businesses in the District of Columbia. The Small Business
Entrepreneurial Council (SBEC) ranked the District of Columbia as the worst place to do
business for small businesses.

i. What can be done legislatively to lower the cost of small businesses operating in
the District of Columbia?
ii. Would you support lowering the franchise tax?
iii. What regulatory requirements for starting and maintaining a business would you
reduce?
iv. What incentives would you support to encourage businesses to hire DC residents?
v. Would you commit to work with the DC Chamber of Commerce to lower the
corporate income tax rates for small businesses?
vi. DC’s regulatory processes are protracted and burdensome. What would you
propose to make it easier for business entrepreneurs to set up shop in the District of
Columbia?
vii. Would you be willing to introduce a legislative proposal as soon as possible?
viii. What else would you highlight related to this Priority?

i. Small businesses tell me that the DC government is a barrier to entrepreneurship instead of being an enabler. So when you are opening a restaurant, for example, it takes days to get the health inspector to come out. That costs businesses time and money--two things that are likely in short supply for a small business, especially an entrepreneur opening his or her first business. Once again, I think a major role I can play as at-large councilmember is performing effective oversight over the key agencies important to businesses, such as DCRA and OTR. I am also interested in how we can leverage federal funds better that might be available from the Small Business Administration.

I would look to best practices in other big cities that have an entrepreneurial climate. For example, in November I went with a colleague to visit New York Mayor Bloomberg’s Office of Small Business Services. Bloomberg blew up his city’s Department of Employment Services and put it into an enhanced SBS; I think that’s an interesting idea.

ii.
Once again, I’m very interested in reading the recommendations from the D.C. Tax Revision Commission. If the commission recommended lowering the franchise tax, I’d very likely support such a move.

iii.
Mayor Gray has just appointed a business regulatory reform commission. I would look to the recommendations from the commission.

iv.
One of the best ways to assure that businesses hire D.C. residents is to have stronger partnerships between the business community and our education systems. As I mentioned above, I think we need to turn the Workforce Development division of UDC-CC into a jobs pipeline. I advocate for a sector specific approach: Let’s put our educational and training resources into where our jobs will be down the road. On the secondary school level, I think Hospitality High School is one example – developed in large part with and by the city’s hotel leadership. Let’s train our residents for industries in which we have a competitive advantage. That’s why I think the Dave Clarke School of Law at UDC is a great resource.

v.
I appreciate the knowledge and the commitment to our community of the DC Chamber and its leadership and pledge to have an open door and an open mind on issues that you share with me.

vi.
Once again, I would initially look to the recommendations of the business regulatory reform task force as my guide.

vii.
If the task force made recommendations on legislation, I’d certainly consider sponsoring it and pushing it.

viii.
I would focus on three distinct jobs as councilmember: performing tough oversight, legislating where there are policy gaps, and being a voice for residents and businesses. That is how I would serve all residents, including the business community.

C. Attract other industries to DC that significantly grow the private sector (i.e. Technology,
Hospitality, Education, and Medical arenas)
i. What would you propose to advance this goal?
ii. What else would you highlight related to this Priority?

My entire campaign, with a focus on ethics, accountability and investment, is dedicated to achieving a stronger, more effective government – one that uses research, metrics, and best practices to improve the quality of life for all of our residents. That includes better schools, safer streets, and an honest, stable government that business leaders can be proud of and work in partnership with. I will work toward a culture on the D.C. Council that inspires confidence, not scorn, and even on those occasions when we disagree on specific policies, I will be accessible. A better government means a better business environment and those are goals we share.  

D. Developing an “International DC” action plan that prepares members for international
engagements including focusing on international target regions for DC businesses to trade
with (i.e., China).
i. What would you propose to advance this goal?
ii. What else would you highlight related to this Priority?
.      International “action plan.”

Just this morning, I read in the Post A section about the relationship between the United Arab Emirates and Joplin, Missouri. I am interested in working with the Chamber, the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, the Office of Tax and Revenue on how we work effectively with international partners.

As a truly international city, the District holds a wealth of resources that could benefit our residents. We need to do a better job of connecting the resources of "official Washington" to the needs of all residents. I would welcome the opportunity to work with the Chamber on such a project.

2. The past two years have produced budget surpluses >$600MM.  At the same time, the District has increased revenue from business taxes, fees, etc.  The surplus can be used three ways: a) increase spending, b) reduce revenue from taxes, fees, etc., or c) deposit into the “Reserve” account.  What percentage of the surplus do you believe should go to each category?  For spending increases and reducing revenues what specific programs and revenue sources respectively would you highlight?

With regard to the current $417 million surplus, I think we should take a balanced approach: We can maintain fiscal responsibility while also using the surplus to help grow and improve life for DC residents and the local economy. I would allocate half to the savings account, or fund balance, and the other half to investments that will help our residents and businesses.

As a council member, I would advocate that a large portion of the surplus should go into the Housing Production Trust Fund, so that DC workers have affordable places to live. I would also advocate for putting some funds into other infrastructure needs, such as capital needs of the Metropolitan Police Department or DC Fire and Emergency Medical Services. As Chamber members know, this is one-time money; I would not advocate putting this money into anything that would add to our baseline budget. I would ask the Chamber for suggestions on one-time capital needs that would be important to our businesses.

3.  Which of the following campaign finance proposals do you support?
A. Banning contributions from:
i. Corporations
ii. Lobbyists
iii. Firms with DC contracts
iv. Officers of firms with DC contracts
v. Bundlers

B. Reducing the maximum contribution levels

C. Increasing the maximum contribution levels

D. Improving disclosure of contributions and expenditures with
i. More frequent posting of contributions and expenditures; if so, how frequent?
ii. Disclose more information; if so, what information?
iii. Are there other disclosure actions to be considered?
E. What other actions should be taken?

A.
Corruption -- both in DC and in markets around the world -- hurts business by unnecessarily increasing the coat of doing business and leading to non-optimal spending decisions.  I have been a leader in Initiative 70 to ban direct corporate contributions to D.C. campaigns, an effort now before the D.C. Superior Court.  I would support Council action to enact legislation that mirrors the federal  law and law in roughly half of the states to ban direct corporate contributions.  I testified on various proposals before the Council on November 2, and I include my testimony in this submission. I favor moving toward public financing of D.C. campaigns. I do not think the Mayor’s legislative proposal can work – it is simply not enforceable, as I outline in my testimony.

I do not favor changing the contribution limits at this time but am open to further discussion. I support electronic filing of campaign contributions and would consider mandating filing in a manner that assures voters know what funds have been received when they vote, and would research what other jurisdictions have done to ensure real-time filing. I would also like to see the Office of Campaign Finance have greater capacity to initiate reviews of campaign reports without always waiting for complaints to be filed by the public.

4.  The Council has “ethics issues.”
A. What would you do about it?
B. Beyond ethics, what other changes do you believe would improve the Council?

The DC Council has an opportunity, and an obligation, to follow the ethics legislation they put into place just this past year. Under the new rules the Council can censure a member following a Council review. In the case of Councilmember Graham, I will urge the Council to undertake that review as requested by Councilmember Wells. I believe there is sufficient information on the record, today, to censure Mr. Graham. The Council must hold itself accountable – and its individual members accountable-- and I am committed once elected to being a leader in pressing for such accountability.

I think part of the ethics problem is that the Council acts like a 13-member club that is not accessible and responsive to businesses, residents, etc. I would try to break open that club. One way would be to use technology to make testifying much easier: Why not allow business leaders the ability to videotape or Skype in testimony, for example? Also I think the Council budget office is very effective and should be used much more to provide better analysis of legislation and more support for oversight hearings.

5. If elected, will you commit to a) actively consulting with the DC Chamber and b) considering the impact of proposed legislation on the business community prior to its introduction (whether authored, co-sponsored) or consideration by committee or full council?

a.
Yes.
b.
Yes.

6.  What do you consider the Number One Issue that the Council should address?
What’s Number Two and Number Three?

Number one issue: ethical, honest, transparent DC government.
Number two issue: closing the achievement gap in our schools.
Number three issue: closing the opportunity gap for our families.

We can’t tackle the other big dilemmas we face as a city--how to grow in an inclusive, profitable, strategic way while closing the achievement gap in our schools and closing the opportunity gap for our families--until we have an ethical, honest, transparent government. This is a foundation of my campaign and will be a foundation of my tenure on the council. That’s why my campaign is laser-focused on three things: integrity, accountability, and strategic investment. As a former reporter and budget analyst I know how to ask good questions, how to find the right information to get to solutions, and how to use the oversight power of the Council to improve operations of the government across the board.  As I note on my first piece of campaign literature: “I want to keep investing in schools, libraries, and mass transit—but I will also push to invest in human capital through literacy, job training, and early childhood education.”  I am uniquely prepared to take apart the District’s budget to find efficiencies and outright savings to be able to make the kinds of investments we need to train our kids to be the entrepreneurs of the future and our parents to be productive, skilled workers who will help make our businesses successful.

Thank you for the opportunity to answer your questions, and I welcome your support. Elissa.