Businesses operating in the District of Columbia are unlikely to see major policy shifts as a result of last night’s local elections. But there is a chance that a new coalition could form on the D.C. Council that would swing the District’s regulatory and tax structure further to the left.
The most high-profile local races were for D.C. Council, especially the two at-large seats up for grabs. One will result in a new face on the council: Christina Henderson. She is well-thought-of by the business community and has deep experience in legislative activity, including as deputy chief of staff for Councilmember David Grosso and as a staffer with U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and former U.S. Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC).
Henderson defeated one of the most liberal political candidates in the District: Ed Lazere. Lazere is the former director of the Fiscal Policy Institute, which advocates for additional government spending to reduce poverty. He received enough votes that he may decide to make another run at it in 2022. If he were to win, he would almost certainly shift the council further to the left.
The other at-large seat was won by incumbent Robert White. The rest of the incumbent councilmembers also successfully defended their seats. There is another somewhat new face though: Brooke Pinto, who won last night following her win earlier this summer in a special election to replace a councilmember who resigned.
Pinto and Henderson will likely determine whether the D.C. Council continues shifting to the left, as it has over the last three or so election cycles. The political fulcrum on the District Council is between those who want to go further to the left and those who are more centrist oriented. There is a group of five councilmembers to the left of that fulcrum, and Henderson and Pinto would give the group a slim majority if they voted alongside it. While Henderson is well-regarded by the business community, this will be an important issue for business leaders to watch in the next session.
There are two areas of policy in particular where a shift to the left could play out and have a substantial impact on businesses. They are the fiscal integrity of the budget and the density of the District’s regulatory structure. Like most municipalities, the District faces significant budget challenges as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. In addition, the District has a very complex regulatory structure that can be challenging and time-intensive for companies to navigate.
While the makeup of the new council does not signal clear changes in either policy area, business leaders should stay engaged on those issues and share their view of how potential changes would impact their regulation and taxing, as well as the sustainability of the District services they receive.
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