Evans warns colleagues’ spending pressures could reverse fiscal progress

Ward 2 D.C. Council member Jack Evans was among the officials to speak at Duke Ellington Park's Nov. 17 event. (Brian Kapur/The Current/November 2017)

After 27 years on the D.C. Council, and closing in on his 65th birthday, Jack Evans figures he can speak his mind. That’s what he has been doing recently at community meetings in Ward 2, which he has represented since 1991.

Evans, who chairs the council’s Finance and Revenue Committee, is not impressed by the level of fiscal responsibility he sees among some other members of the council.

“Half my colleagues think they are on the D.C. student council,” Evans said May 2 at a meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2F (Logan Circle). “The council has changed. Many members are liberal lefties, from the Bernie Sanders, socialist wing of the [Democratic] party.”

In addition to serving on the D.C. Council, Evans serves on the board of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, and is its current chair. He thinks Metro is on the mend, but acknowledges its reputation needs a little burnishing. He shared an old joke about Metro that still rings painfully true to those forced to rely on the public transit agency in recent years.

“How many Metro employees does it take to change a light bulb?” Evans cracked. “None. We don’t change light bulbs at Metro.”

But recent appropriations in Virginia and Maryland — which have brought guaranteed funding streams from all three jurisdictions served by Metro — have Evans feeling more optimistic.

“I have the money I need to fix the system,” he said. “We have hit the bottom and are on the way up. I’ve got a new general manager. I got rid of some board members who were terrible. Our reliability rating is up to 90 percent from 70.”

Evans told an April 30 meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E (Georgetown, Burleith) that the feasibility of proposals by other council members to give property tax relief to senior citizens depends on revenue.

“I hope we can move forward and fund it,” he said. “It comes down to whether we can fund it.”

But at Logan Circle two nights later, as the council’s budget discussions progressed, Evans was more categorical.

“If you were here during the tough times, you need to get to stay during the good times,” he said. “We have a 10 percent cap [on increases in real estate assessments]. I wish it was 5 percent.”

Despite spending tendencies by some of his colleagues that he finds too loose, Evans said the city’s finances have improved vastly.

“The city was in bad shape [in 1991], and it got worse,” he told the Logan Circle gathering. “We’ve taken a city that was bankrupt in the mid ’90s, and today it’s rated AAA. Our reserves are at $2.8 billion.”

To his constituents in both Georgetown and Logan Circle, Evans spoke of how the District allocates its $14.5 billion budget.

D.C. spends more money on social services than anything else. Education is No. 2. Public safety is third, but Evans says that will be overtaken soon by spending to service the public debt.

“We borrowed $10 billion in the first 40 years [of home rule],” he said. “I was here when the train was running off the cliff. There are clouds on the horizon. The biggest cloud I worry about is debt. We are going to increase our debt by $5 billion — 50 percent — in the next five years.”

Regarding education, Evans noted that the District spends $2.4 billion on the 80,000 students in local schools.

“Nobody in the country spends more than we do,” he said. “The results are still nowhere near where they need to be. One in three seniors don’t go to class. One out of two who start the ninth grade don’t finish.”

Evans thinks something besides the level of educational funding is awry.

“We fixed all 13 buildings at the city’s high schools. It didn’t move the needle,” he said.

Along with the travails of the city’s school system, Evans said homelessness is the other big, and seemingly intractable, problem that D.C. faces.

“I jog five miles every day, and I see [homelessness] everywhere,” he said. “There are homeless encampments all over Foggy Bottom.

“We are a caring and compassionate city. We will feed and house and clothe you if you want to come here. But some people still prefer to live in tents. Within days of cleaning out encampments, people are back on the streets.”

Evans cited a typical statistic that accounts for Washington’s popularity among those who have no place to lay their heads.

“Fairfax County has twice as many people as we do, and 18 shelter beds. D.C. has 2,000 shelter beds.”

Evans said he gets frequent complaints about the city’s streets.

“Why are our streets such a wreck? [Local financier and philanthropist] David Rubenstein has told me, ‘I’ll pay for Reno Road if you’ll pave it.’ We repave Pennsylvania Avenue every four years because of the inauguration. We could do that for other streets, too.”

In response to a question from longtime Logan Circle civic leader Helen Kramer, Evans spoke about the “unity rally” held last month on the steps of the Wilson Building. One speaker made anti-Semitic remarks while Joshua Lopez, a board member of the D.C. Housing Authority, held the bullhorn that amplified the remarks. Lopez has since resigned.

“He could have pulled the bullhorn away, but he didn’t,” Evans said. “It hurt the city badly. It made the national and international news. Do you think [Jeff] Bezos sees these shenanigans going on and will move Amazon here?”

Evans panned the practical effect of the Universal Paid Leave Act, passed by the D.C. Council in December 2016

“Two-thirds of the benefits of the paid family leave bill go to Virginia and Maryland residents,” he said. “Can you imagine Virginia or Maryland passing a law that would mostly benefit District residents?”

Evans noted ruefully that his brand of politics makes him neither fish nor fowl.

“I’m too liberal to get elected anywhere else in the country,” he said. “Here I’m the most conservative member of the council.”

In his initial remarks both in Georgetown and Logan Circle, Evans spoke of the different hats he wears in his various governmental and political functions. He also spoke of another, non-political hat, the one he called the most important.

“I’m the father of triplets,” he said. “They have turned 21, and are juniors in college. Nobody can get arrested for underage drinking now. There’s an old adage about parents. You’re only as happy as your least happy child.

“Mine are all happy, so I’m happy.”