- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 18, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown promised to get a comprehensive ethics-reform bill passed before the new year rolls in, and if things go as scheduled, he and his colleagues will place their imprimatur on a measure Tuesday.

The council gave its initial blessing Dec. 6. Yet lawmakers are still wrangling over the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability Establishment and the Comprehensive Ethics Reform Amendment Act, which would, among other things, spread a little sunshine on slush funds and create an independent ethics board.

In an interview Friday, Mr. Brown said that passing ethics-reform legislation and a measure honoring native Washingtonian and NFL Hall of Famer Willie Wood, who turns 75 on Friday, highlight his priorities as lawmakers officially wrap up their legislative calendar before the Christmas break.

“I am fully committed to making sure we get a comprehensive ethics-reform bill passed, [while] we may wait until January for emergency legislation to work out any issues,” said Mr. Brown, a Democrat.

While the council already is united on putting its permanent stamp of approval on the Willie Wood Way Designation Act (an honor often bestowed upon notable D.C. natives only after the Lord has called them home), it’s unclear whether Mr. Brown’s No. 1 promise to residents and voters — fiscal responsibility — will be torn asunder if the ethics measure is passed Tuesday.

Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi alerted lawmakers nearly two weeks ago that there simply is no money in the budget or the financial plan to create an ethics board, whose costs would increase from $311,000 this year to nearly $2.9 million in 2015.

“Funds are not sufficient in the FY 2012 through FY 2015 budget and financial plan to implement the provisions of the proposed legislation,” Mr. Gandhi said in his fiscal-impact statement to Mr. Brown on Dec. 6, the same day the council preliminarily approved the ethics bill.

In other words, stakeholders, the council will either look into robbing Peter to pay Paul (i.e., reprogramming funds) or buy into Mr. Brown’s promise that the city will live within its means and rethink its big-government liberalism.

Mr. Brown’s words: “Safeguarding our economy and our finances is the single most important action the council can take to ensure that the District has the continued ability to serve its residents and businesses.”

My translation: The D.C. government should live within its means.

To be sure, $2.9 million for a new ethics board can be found in the city’s coffers over the course of the next few years. As Mr. Brown said, it’s up to the council to ensure that the public gets “full accountability and oversight” of city expenditures.

But therein lies the No. 1 rub.

The council wants stakeholder buy-in on three components of good-government policy — quality, value and convenience — when its ethics-reform package hinges only on convenience (and political convenience and expediency at that).

New beginnings

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