So Popular, It's Running in the Red

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Billed as "America's Metro" when the federal government cut the red tape (of one sort, anyway) almost 30 years ago, D.C. Metro isn't the American sweetheart it used to be.

Somehow, while other public transportation systems are pining for an increase in riders to lift revenue, fares from the crowds piling into D.C. Metro's packed cars are breaking its budget.

Though the ten local governments that control D.C. Metro's funds are resisting the idea of rewarding a flurry of fiscal and safety mismanagement scandals with the promise of dedicated funding, Big Brother may be swooping in to help. Born as a federal pet project, a Congressional hearing yesterday considered providing $1.5 billion to D.C. Metro contingent upon "dedicated funding, two additional seats on the 12-member board of directors and the creation of an inspector general."

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  1. Because every problem is solved when you add more bureaucrats.

  2. I often [i]start[/i] to get mad at the numerous problems affecting public transportation in the United States, but then I have to remind myself that there’s precious little [i]private[/i] transportation in the United States.

  3. Having lived in DC, I feel confident saying that the lion’s share of the reasons why local and regional government suck there, is because of its lack of self-rule.

    The people who have the ultimate power over DC – that is, Congress – do not answer to the people they govern and tax there. They have no motivation to make the government run well, and they pull shit, and allow shit, they’d never even try to get away with if they had to answer to their charges come election day.

    Which also had the perverse effect of causing the local government to be able to get away with insane amounts of negligence, because they can blame all their problems on Congress, and lead charges against it, without ever having to worry about achievement in either running the city well, or in actually fighting off Congress.

    Oh, yeah, this extends to the Metro, which is a regional quasi blah blah blah. So now that’s a third reason why there’s a lack of accountability.

  4. Having lived in DC, I feel confident saying that the lion’s share of the reasons why local and regional government suck there, is because of its lack of self-rule.

    Woo hoo.. I needed a good laugh today joe.

    The people who have the ultimate power over DC – that is, Congress – do not answer to the people they govern and tax there. They have no motivation to make the government run well, and they pull shit, and allow shit, they’d never even try to get away with if they had to answer to their charges come election day.

    Like what, joe? What has congress foisted on us as of late? Vouchers? (Thank god. Third world countries are run better than DCPS, which is run by a superintendent and BoE that are either elected by the District residents or appointed by a mayor). Mostly Congress buts its head in when its dishing out the $$$, but since the District has a long history of wasting cash by the metric assload through malfeasance or incompetence I’ll give Congress the benefit of the doubt when make demands that cash is not, you know, wasted.

    Almost all of the damage done to DC is home grown is caused by people elected by DC residents. Simply giving DC home rule (which I do support) won’t change a thing.

  5. They have no motivation to make the government run well, and they pull shit, and allow shit, they’d never even try to get away with if they had to answer to their charges come election day.

    Which I guess explains why the D.C. government ran so much better before home rule, when it was an agency of the U.S. government.

  6. What has congress foisted on us as of late?

    Well, there was that stunt a few years ago where voters had clearly approved by a wide margin a medical MJ initiative, but Congress wouldn’t release funds to allow the complete voting results to be counted. Then there were the “certainly not helping the Metro budget” stunts of:

    — Making Metro spend money to reprint all their maps and schedules to show “National Airport” as “Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport,” despite the fact that Metro had just printed all new maps several months prior to show the locations of several new stations;

    — Having a bill in Congress preventing Metro from accepting advertisements from drug legalization advocacy groups.

    I’m not apologizing for the DC city government — being a NoVa resident, I don’t have to, suckers! — but Congress is no friend of the people of DC.

  7. Damn, Nathan, miss much? Why don’t you try reading the whole post?

    Seamus, at least pre-“home rule,” there were clear lines of responsibility. If something was screwed up in the District, the feds took the blame. Today, whenever something’s screwed up, the local government and Congress can just point their fingers at each other.

  8. Hmm… lets see what you said joe

    The people who have the ultimate power over DC – that is, Congress – do not answer to the people they govern and tax there. They have no motivation to make the government run well, and they pull shit, and allow shit, they’d never even try to get away with if they had to answer to their charges come election day.

    “Pull shit and allow shit.” Whoa… you’re absolutely right, how did I ever miss that comprehensive list of evils and ills of Congress’s grip on the District? Pardon me for asking for a little more detail.

  9. Well, there was that stunt a few years ago where voters had clearly approved by a wide margin a medical MJ initiative, but Congress wouldn’t release funds to allow the complete voting results to be counted…

    But how would releasing the pot votes turn DC from a criminally neglected city to a thriving metropolis? This was, after all, joe’s contention. I’ll say it again, give DC total home rule free from the grip of congress and nothing would change. Its not as if the population who continue to vote in a bunch of ineffective asshats will all of the sudden, with the loss of congretional oversite, become paragons of civicmindedness.

    Just like the pols he claim bamboozle us idjut DC residents with all of their “let’s blame it on congress,” joe takes the naive way out of blaming the “lion’s share” of DC’s problem on non DC factors, which is just bunk. DC gets the gov’t DC deserves. Congress didn’t force us to elect a shitty, shitty Board of Education. Congress didn’t force us to elect a crackhead for Mayor. Congress didn’t force us to vote a squabbling, “who can I blame for my fuckups” City Council. DC residents did.

  10. “home rule” masks an important financial picture – I’m in Austin (state capitol of Texas), and here most local money is raised by property taxes.

    Guess how much money the state pays for the vast amounts of valuable land they hold in Austin?

    Guess how much money the University of Texas pays?

    And, not coincidentally, we have the same arguments over “home rule” here – the state legislature occasionally makes noise about creating a DC-like entity.

    Couldn’t be any worse – as it stands now, the city must pay for the roads that funnel state workers from the freeways to their offices, for the fire/police/EMS coverage they require, etc., but don’t see a dime in property taxes from their employer(s).

    I wonder – how much property tax does the Federal government pay to DC?

  11. Oh, and more specific to Metro, the article author needs a healthy dose of reality-smacking. The Feds have been subsidizing operating costs for the Metro while the capital costs (buying bigger trains, long-term station projects) went unsponsored. Of course this brings us to where we are now – there’s plenty of demand for this public transportation service even at relatively high fares (I was just there this week and yes, the cars are packed), but the lack of past capital investment means that nothing can be done to satisfy further apparent latent demand.

    Unlike most transportation agencies, the Metro doesn’t have a dedicated source of tax revenue – it basically goes begging every year.

  12. But how would releasing the pot votes turn DC from a criminally neglected city to a thriving metropolis?

    Why, I’m certain I don’t know. Perhaps you could ask someone who was making the argument that it would? I was answering the rather specific question, “What has congress foisted on us as of late?”

    This was, after all, joe’s contention.

    I would not deign to speak for joe. He’s a big boy.

  13. So I gather the state roads and federal highways that carry car-based commuters into DC operate in the black, right?

    I’ve always wondered why mainstream libertarian agitation against public transportation is so much stronger than the movement against public through roads.

    Has there ever been a study on whether there’s a high correlation between libertarianism and germophobia?

  14. “I’ve always wondered why mainstream libertarian agitation against public transportation is so much stronger than the movement against public through roads.”

    Because most of said agitation comes from suburbanite Republican commuters who don’t like the religious right, and thus want to hide under the banner of libertarianism.

  15. “joe takes the naive way out of blaming the “lion’s share” of DC’s problem on non DC factors”

    …which you can see by the way I wrote one paragraph about how the structure allows the local government to avoid responsibility, after a paragraph about how the structure allows Congress to avoid responsibilaity.

    Nathan, when you read my posts, do you see a projection of the inside of your own head?

  16. Now I’ll get back to my core arguments, that counting the votes from the ballot measure would turn everyone in DC into paragons of civic-mindededness, and that the DC Council and Mayor’ Office have never done anything wrong. *rolls eyes*

  17. Nathan, when you read my posts, do you see a projection of the inside of your own head?

    Do you conviently forget what you wrote the minute you hit the post button? The “lion’s share” was a direct quote from your first post.

    As for your first argument — Congress avoids responsibility — lets take a look at how congress interacts with the District. “Home Rule” arguments for the District generally have to do with a) not having a vote in congress b) having congress control a large part of the District’s funding and c) congress sticking its nose into local DC laws.

    a) Congressional representation with full voting rights would be awesome. It also will probably not change the day-to-day goings on of the District gov’t by very much. Maybe a better chance to horse trade votes to get a project here and there for the District, but nothing that will make or break the mountain of problems faceing DC.

    b) DC pols may not like having to go to Congress and kiss ass to get their latest project but DC seems to get the money they need. Spending it, however, is a different problem. Spend a few hours perusing the DC Inspector General’s website to see where all of the budgetary problems lie. When it comes to fraud, waste and abuse DC is a superstar. This has nothing to do with congress and everything to do with DC’s elected officials.

    c) I’ll ask for a second time: (to paraphrase what you wrote in your first post) “what shit do they pull and allow” that detrimentally effects the District? In almost all cases of congress trying to supercede the District it is done to score ideological, but meaningless in the daily scope of things, points. For instance, the aforementioned medical pot vote, trying to overturn the gun ban and school vouchers. Issues that generate lots of press and heated arguments but no matter what the outcome of the vote will do squat to change the day-to-day administration of the District.

    The “lion’s share” of DC’s problems have to do with DC gov’t. Its bloated, ineffectual, and corrupt. This isn’t congresses fault, this is the District’s fault… which leads me to your second argument: the local gov’t avoids responsibility. You may have poo-pooed it in your last post, but you argument is essentially that the lack of home rule gives District pols an easy “hey, blame congress” excuse for any of the District’s problems, and that the removal of this excuse will somehow change this. This is just plain laughable. If the voting population is, how shall I say this, politically naive enough to buy the first argument lock, stock and barrel, then if and when home rule is restored they’ll buy whatever new, simplistic excuse the powers that be thrown at them (“William’s isn’t black enough” is a fun one floating around these days, Barry can always fall back on blaming whitey, Holmes Norton will undoubtedly discover Martians are behind a vast, anti District conspiracy).

    While blaming all of the troubles of DC on the “lack of home rule” may be what’s fashionable among the Northwest hipster crowd it is woefully naive and shows an all out ignorance of how DC works (or, as the case may be, doesn’t work). 99% of DC’s problems were made by DC residents and the officials it elected.

    Now, if we’re going to simplistically point fingers and assign blame for DC’s woes I know one group who are a hell of a lot more culpable than congress, and that’s the DC Republican Party. If they could actually field a slate of candidates that were electable the Democrats may not have an 85%+ lock on the city. Monolithic control of an area tends to lead to elected officials who were better at working the party bureaucracy / maintaining the status quo than actually doing anything to help the city.

  18. Anyway, joe, since “give the District home rule and the lion’s share of problem would go away” was your hypothesis please explain

    a) what Congress is currently doing (you know, the shit they pull and allow) that is exasperating DC’s fraud, waste and abuse that would be changed with home rule

    b) how taking away the “blame congress” excuse from politicians would make them actually perform their duties better and/or make the electorate vote them out of office

    For all of your bluster and posturing you still haven’t been able to do either.

  19. Aren’t WAMTA and its Metro subway system operated jointly by DC and the surrounding suburban counties in Maryland and Virginia? If devolving to home rule offers so little hope for more responsible local government, maybe Congress should take over the suburban counties too!

  20. If devolving to home rule offers so little hope for more responsible local government, maybe Congress should take over the suburban counties too!

    Are the suburban counties run as badly as DC? No. WAMTA may have lots of problems (see this series in the Post), but WAMTA is one small piece of what the District and metro area gov’ts do.

    Also, which state does does DC belong to? When jurisdictions in states have serious institutionalized problems the state gov’t tends to be the one bailing them out, whether its by taking control of the finances if a city goes bankrupt, assuming controls of a school system, etc. The only governmental power with the ability to step in with respect to DC is the federal government. You can bet your bottom dollar if Fairfax County, Arlington, Montgomery County, PG County, et al was run as badly as DC Virginia or Maryland would have stepped in to try to clean up the mess.

    And again, I’m for home rule. But I’m not stupid enough to think that home rule is any sort of cure-all for DC’s problems. Give the District home rule tomorrow and it would still continue to be run by bloated, inefficient and corrupt bureaucracy, supported by the politicians that DC residents elect.

  21. Nathan,

    Please name for me anything that the Department of Health and Human Serivices ever did that required AFDC recipients to make bad decisions.

    I wouldn’t have though the moral hazards of removing the responsibility for someone’s actions, while leaving them with broad discretion in how to act, would be a subject I’d have to explain on a libertarian board.

    You seem to be determined to see responsibility in DC as a zero-sum game, as if the admission of irresponsibility on Congress’s part lessens the irresponsbility on the DC government’s part. In reality, Congressional irresponsibility worsens, and enables, that of the local government, and the local voters.

    It’s been a while since I lived in DC – I’d forgotten how reactionary its partisans are. We haven’t seen any DC Statehood Party types on this board yet, but they’re even worse. Apparently, Nathan is wrong that the structure of government causes City Hall to act irresponsibly, while the federal overseers are effective and engaged. In fact, it’s just the opposite, and all of the actions taken by the Mayor and Council are appropriate responses to the unfair hand they’re dealt by Congress. As anyone who isn’t a racist honkey can see.

  22. You seem to be determined to see responsibility in DC as a zero-sum game,

    No, responsibility in the District is not a zero sum game, and I haven’t claimed that. Nor have I claimed that “federal overseers are effective and engaged.” My claim is that, unlike being the cause of the “lion’s share” of DC’s problems the Home Rule issues is a smokescreen the “progressives” have latched onto (yourself included) as the cause and solution to “the lion’s share” of the District’s problems. It is not. My point is that home rule has squat to do with the vast majority of the Districts problems. With home rule or without home rule the District would still be in the same messYou claimed that because of the lack of home rule that Congress “pull shit, and allow shit,” yet you seem unable to actually articulate exactly what shit Congress pull

  23. (Repost. Never let a 15 month old around your keyboard when you’re ranting)

    You seem to be determined to see responsibility in DC as a zero-sum game,

    No, responsibility in the District is not a zero sum game, and I haven’t claimed that. Nor have I claimed that “federal overseers are effective and engaged.” My claim is that the Home Rule issues is a smokescreen the “progressives” have latched onto (yourself included) as the cause and solution to “the lion’s share” of the District’s problems. It is not. My point is that home rule has squat to do with the vast majority of the Districts problems. With home rule or without home rule the District would still be in the same mess because most of the problems happen at the local government level, which is run by people elected by the District’s residents, or appointed by people elected by the District’s residents. Home rule is largely orthogonal to the problem. Congressional oversite, in the grand scheme of things, neither helps nor hinders that.

    If DC was a well run, fiscally responsible jurisdiction with whom Congress continually pull rank on (withholding tones of funding, etc.) you may actually have a leg to stand on. But it isn’t, and you don’t.

    So I’ll ask again, since you seem to be doing a bang up job of dodging defending your original hypothesis:

    a) what Congress is currently doing (you know, the shit they pull and allow) that is exasperating DC’s fraud, waste and abuse that would be changed with home rule

    b) how taking away the “blame congress” excuse from politicians would make them actually perform their duties better and/or make the electorate vote them out of office

    For all of your bluster and posturing you still haven’t been able to do either.

  24. And it appears you have a severAlso, it appears that you have a severe case of selective reading joe. In about three different posts I said that I actually support home rule. I think it?s a travesty that we don’t have full congressional representation and it would love to be out from under the oversight of Congress. But, unlike you, I am under no delusions that this will change much of anything when it comes to the problems of the District. The District will still have a bloated bureaucracy and will waste money like a gambling addict in Vegas, the school system will continue to suck, we’ll continue to be taxed out the wazoo, etc. Nothing, I repeat nothing will drastically change until the majority of the District residents want it to, vote appropriately and continue to apply pressure to make sure change happens. As I said above, for better or for worse DC gets the gov’t it deserves.

  25. Nathan,

    Congressional oversight isn’t used as an excuse, one that enables DC politicians to garner undue support and avoid responsibility for mismanagement?

    Is that what your saying? That, rather than the pseudo-colonial system creating structural problems that enable incompetent administation, there’s just something in the air/water/genetics/culture among Washington DC residents that, in election after election, causes them to vote irresponsibly, and causes their representatives to govern irresponsibly?

    I say bullshit.

    If you were a better reader, or maybe a more honest debater, you would have noticed, asknowledged that I’ve said, repeatedly, that Congress’s role in this lies in enabling actions by the DC goverment. Asking me to name actions taken by Congress sort of misses the point.

  26. Congressional oversight isn’t used as an excuse, one that enables DC politicians to garner undue support and avoid responsibility for mismanagement?

    Of course it’s used as an excuse. Take it away, though, and it will be replaced with a new excuse. If the residents of the District will buy that line hook, line and sinker they’ll buy any other excuse. It’s not as if the residents of the District haven’t bought other BS excuses for why the schools are failing, security is crap, roads don’t get paved, etc. “Home rule” is hardly the only the only excuse the pols in DC throw around to explain away DC’s problems, nor is it anywhere near the most prevalent.

    That, rather than the pseudo-colonial system creating structural problems that enable incompetent administation, there’s just something in the air/water/genetics/culture among Washington DC residents that, in election after election, causes them to vote irresponsibly, and causes their representatives to govern irresponsibly?

    Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. Your average DC voter doesn’t go around saying “you know, we have a psuedo-colonial system creating structural problem. Let’s show Congress how we feel by voting a complete incompetent bastard into office. If he’s a crack smoker all the better. That’ll teach ’em.” DC voters, like all voters, vote their interests. And in the District that’s (mostly) the politics of poverty. Thanks in large part to the likes of “Mayor for Live” Barry DC lost its middle class in droves, leaving the wealthy huddled in Northwest and the lowest of the middleclass, and the poor everywhere else. So, what issue garners the most attention with District residents? Ones that purport to help the poor. What sells in the District, vote wise? Affordable housing, extend welfare, job growth initiatives, etc. Now, those may be noble initiatives but the proof of the pudding is how one goes about delivering them. With the DC Democrats it’s spend, spend, spend. “Vote for us and the gov’t will solve your problems.” Want job creation? We’re not going to lower business taxes and bureaucracy. No, we’re going to spend lots of money on vocational programs (to fill jobs that will never show up because of the aforementioned taxes and red tape), and when that fails lets just increase the already bloated gov’t payroll (true story, when Carl Cohn told the powers that be that one of the first things he would do as school Superintendent was cut a mass of useless, non teaching jobs within DCPS that did little other than suck up funds he was told he wouldn’t be able to do that. Giving DC residents jobs, no matter how meaningless, was more important that teaching the children. Cohn soon after turned the job down. Needless to say I fail to see how congress is to blame for this). Want cheap housing? Don’t worry, we’ll build it (at a great expense, and it not like its been all that successful before, but don’t worry, it will be this time. Oh, and try not to notice that the contractor building these new “projects” is a close, personal friend and got the job on a no bid basis for much higher than the free market would allow). Etc.. etc.. etc.

    So between the “hey, we’ll poor good money after bad into your neighborhood” vs. the “hey, we’re going to cut taxes (meaning its going to reduce revenues, therefore most likely downsizing the District gov’t by quite a bit; you may lose your job), allow the housing market to grow unmolested (attracting the middle class, you know the ones who have the discretionary income to support all those fancy restaurants and businesses — that in turn would create more jobs — you yell and scream about not having in your neighborhood, but raising the price of your rent). This will hurt short term but will help everyone by orders of magnitude in the long term,” if you were poor, a product of the DC education system and had dick for opportunity, which way would you vote?

    Give the District home rule and nothing will change. The issue of poverty will continue to drive most of the local issues of the District. Back to my point that the DC Republican part (or any other party for that matter) is more culpable than Congress, they need to craft a compelling story about why a lower tax rate, a liberalized business environment and a smaller bureaucracy is ultimately a good thing for the District the Democrats will wipe the floor with them each and every election with the status quo: i.e. the “we’ll throw more money at the problem” strategy.

    And its not like DC is alone in these problems. To various degrees cities such as Detroit, Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, Long Beach are going or have gone through similar problem as the District. They don’t have your “Congressional oversight boogieman” to blame for their messes. What makes the District so special?

    Snarky aside: two years of living in the District had me pretty much fleeing the Democrat party for good. According to “progressive” orthodoxy DC should be a paradise: high taxes, generous welfare, large public sector, most restrictive gun laws in the nation, Democratic control since the beginning of time (or at least the beginning of DC local politics), yet it’s may be the worst municipality in the country.

    If you were a better reader, or maybe a more honest debater, you would have noticed, asknowledged that I’ve said, repeatedly, that Congress’s role in this lies in enabling actions by the DC goverment.

    Yet you still show no proof of their enabling. I could claim that the District’s problems are due to Judge Wapner no longer being on TV. Doesn’t make it true. Some evidence would be nice.

    Funny how you question my sanity, reading ability and debating skills, but you have yet to defend in any substantial way your original thesis beyond such things as Ad Hominem attacks and burden of proof fallacies.

    (p.s. you can’t spell for shit. Granted, mine’s not great, but, remember, I’m a fucking moron, so its to be expected)

  27. Asking me to name actions taken by Congress sort of misses the point.

    Gee joe, Oh, and almost forgot this one?

    Asking me to name actions taken by Congress sort of misses the point.

    Gee joe, when your “Starter for 10” is:

    The people who have the ultimate power over DC – that is, Congress – do not answer to the people they govern and tax there. They have no motivation to make the government run well, and they pull shit, and allow shit, they’d never even try to get away with if they had to answer to their charges come election day.

    I didn’t realize that asking for some examples of the “pulling and allowing shit” you cite to be beyond the bounds of debate. How silly of me.

  28. It would be much easier for me to live in DC for a number of reasons. But I would NEVER consider it, because DC is a fucking leftist wasteland. They tax the fuck out of property owners. The local government creamed their pants over Kelo, so now they can steal land to build their precious Nats boondoogle off the pristine waters of the Anacostia. The private ownership of firearms in DC is defacto illegal. And this is all LOCAL governance.

    So yeah, I’m for home-rule to, but these locals are total assholes, and a huge part of the problem.

  29. Friends don’t let friends live in DC.

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