President Deadbeat

April 20, 1992

President Bush is arguably the most expensive resident of the District of Columbia but pays not a cent to support that beleaguered city's government. He lives rent free in a big White House that is not subject to property taxes. He requires the services of scores of police each time he travels around Washington. And he pays no state income taxes to D.C. -- or to any place for that matter.

Under an unfair perk in the law enacted by the self-serving political Establishment in 1949, the president and vice president, members of Congress, presidential appointees subject to congressional approval and congressional staffers from members' home states escape D.C. income taxes -- among the highest in the land.

This is an especially big break for very privileged persons from the seven states with no income taxes -- George Bush's Texas among them. According to an advocacy group, Citizens Action, the president and his first lady have saved $165,000 in state income taxes over the past decade because of their special status. That number is too low. Having saved $30,000 by not paying taxes to the city of Washington in 1990, the Bushes would have had to cough up a lot more by April 15's deadline this year because their income tripled in 1991.

White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater tries to justify this deadbeating by contending that the non-payments to D.C. are a function of Mr. Bush's desire to maintain voting residency in Texas, where he maintains a hotel room in Houston. But Texas officials say the president would retain his resident voting rights in Texas even if he paid taxes to the city of Washington. Mr. Fitzwater's formulation doesn't wash.

For Marylanders, this little saga has a sad side story. In 1977, Congress extended the tax-exclusion to members of Congress living in neighboring jurisdictions. Maryland appealed to the Supreme Court but was ignored. So this perk continues, giving a new definition to "the Free State."

The rationale is that poor, deprived members of Congress should not have to pay income taxes twice. But of course they never would. Whatever they paid to D.C. (a city that serves them expansively) would be subtracted from what they owed their home states. President Gerald Ford vetoed this extension first time around, saying it "benefits a narrow and special class of person." But then along came President Jimmy Carter.

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