Testimony of Travis Ballie, Under 3 DC Organizing Director, before the Committee on Business and Economic Development

April 8, 2024
Testimony
Person Testifying: Travis Ballie
Title: Organizing Director, Under 3 DC
Testimony Heard By: Committee on Business and Economic Development
Type of Hearing: Budget Hearing

Good morning Chairperson McDuffie, councilmembers, and staff of the Committee on Business and Economic Development. My name is Travis Ballie, and I am the Organizing Director at DC Action. I am here today on behalf of the early childhood education coalition Under 3 DC to make the case that we can prevent cuts to critical programs like Baby Bonds and the Pay Equity Fund for Early Educators. One main driver of these hurtful cuts is the Chief Financial Officer’s incorrect interpretation of the requirement to replenish locally mandated reserves with resources other than end of year surplus. Simply put, CFO Lee’s interpretation is wrong & he is overstepping his power, usurping the roles of our elected Councilmembers and undermining the institution of the Council.  His overreach puts at risk higher pay and life-saving health care for over 4,000 early educators in DC and child care subsidies for hundreds of families. The Council allocated funding for pay increases and now teachers are going to see their pay cut. 

The district is at risk of breaking a major promise and that many educators have made life altering decisions based on their pay increases. An early educator I have spoken with is deciding RIGHT NOW whether to back out of a signed offer for their first ever owned home. Another early educator I spoke with, Miss Jacquie, is sitting down with her family right now to figure out if she will have to work until she is 85 years old if her pay is cut.

We need to raise revenue to reverse these cuts to critical human services. That can be accomplished by adopting a tax system for justice, one that asks the wealthiest of our neighbors to pay their fair share, so that basic human needs can be met in the District. This is why we are proud to be part of All in for DC: A Just Recovery Campaign

The first three years of a child’s life shape every year after. Yet every family needs help to ensure their baby gets their best start and has the opportunity for a limitless future. Public investments are vital for enabling all DC families to obtain their greatest successes, including the need to center the early educators experiencing the racial and economic injustice of low pay every day. We shine a spotlight on the need for more public investments to support these families and workers as they are raising their infants and toddlers. Child care is as essential infrastructure as our roads or Downtown DC. Taxes are the collective price we pay for investments in these essential public goods, such as our commitment under the Birth to Three law to create a world-class, well-coordinated systems of early care and education so all DC families can flourish.

Under 3 DC believes that structural racism is often the root of the disparities facing Black and brown families in the District. As such, undoing structural racism must drive all of our decisions, including tax and revenue policy. We urge Committee Chair McDuffie and members of this Committee to support revenue policies that advance racial justice and economic mobility for low-income Black and brown families with intentionality and urgency.

Tax policy can either help us reduce racial inequities or exacerbate them. For example, a program like Baby Bonds can help address major racial wealth disparities but unfortunately, the Mayor is once again seeking to cut this essential wealth building tool while at the same time, leaving drivers of wealth inequality in place. For example, DC taxes capital gains income at the same rate as income from work, allowing the wealthy to defer paying taxes on appreciating assets for years and sometimes decades until they are sold and exempts a lifetime of untaxed capital gains income upon death.

 

While the District has taken important steps to reduce the taxes paid by households with the lowest incomes, advantageous treatment of inherited wealth, capital gains, dividends, and property ownership, among other things, continue to exacerbate racial wealth inequality.

With DC’s high cost of living, working as a teacher, delivery driver, or restaurant server doesn’t always mean you can make ends meet. But a tax increase on wealth would barely affect those who hold the majority of it, since they spend only a fraction of what they earn or passively gain on their investments. If the CFO requires the Council to fully replenish all local reserves, then the burden of that decision should fall on those who have the most ability to contribute to our city’s financial stability, not those already struggling to make ends meet. We urge you look to the Just Recovery tax platform for potential solutions to achieve a budget that is equitable for this year’s so-called ‘shared sacrifice.’ Thank you and the Committee for your time.