Candidates for two at-large seats on the D.C. Council presented their legislative proposals Wednesday, May 2 at a forum held by the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, as the prospective city leaders laid out their agenda for the District’s business community.
The incumbents — Democrat Anita Bonds and independent Elissa Silverman — faced their respective challengers in two separate segments. Bonds’ opponents included Marcus Goodwin, Aaron Holmes and Jeremiah Lowery — her three foes in the June 19 Democratic primary — while Silverman squared off with Dionne Bussey-Reeder, Ambrose Lane Jr. and Rustin Lewis, whom she’ll face in the November general election.
“We thought this would be a great opportunity for small businesses to hear from the candidates running for” the at-large seats, Marie C. Johns, chair of the D.C. Chamber’s board of directors, said of the forum.
Johns said that the chamber wanted to give business owners the opportunity to present their election agendas.
Matters of taxes, education and affordable housing took center stage at the forum.
“We need to reduce some of the burden on the businesses in the District,” said chamber President and CEO Vincent B. Orange. “We are looking at $1 billion in new taxes.”
Orange said the 0.62 percent payroll tax on employers to fund the District’s universal paid-leave program would cost D.C. businesses about $250 million, the proposed carbon tax would cost them $650 million and Metro funding would cost businesses in the city about $170 million. He also said as the city’s unemployment insurance fund grows to nearly $600 million, the addition of $150 million to the fund will fall back on the city’s small businesses.
“After these new taxes, the business community is still faced with workforce development, educating our young people and providing affordable housing,” Orange said, adding that those issues, alongside circulating dollars within the District by hiring city residents and using D.C.-based contractors for development, were the chamber’s priorities.
Though Lane said he would not support a decrease in the amount of funds dedicated due to unemployment disparities, he proposed a “jobs for all” bill that would guarantee District residents employment, saying that five to eight percent of the budget could support the bill.
“It’s about the priorities that we set,” he said.
Bussey-Reeder, who owns the Cheers at the Big Chair restaurant in Ward 8, touted her track record of employing city residents. She also proposed cutting taxes for local businesses and leveraging the city resources to build more affordable housing.
“Once you elect me, I will be the only council member that is a business owner and who understand your plight,” said. “I hire D.C. residents. Out of my six employees, five of them live in the District of Columbia, four of them live in Ward 8.”
Bonds also promised to commit to no new taxes for D.C. businesses, while Goodwin proposed expansion of vocational education opportunities and offering incentives to developers that use District contractors and workers.
Tanya Crawford, a District resident and owner of a small business of an accounting firm aimed at tracking government accountability and financial compliance, said the forum was a “great investment” of her time. She said hearing the candidates’ perspectives on protecting small businesses would help her in the polls.
“It’s evident that Black businesses are an endangered species in D.C.,” Crawford said she was looking for candidates to discuss how they would protect minority business in the city. “Black businesses are not equitably represented in the District.”