The district's tax bill

May 19, 2006

The Supreme Court's decision this week not to consider overturning the federal ban on a District of Columbia commuter tax was good news for the thousands of Maryland residents who work in the nation's capital.

Commuter taxes are frequently counterproductive, anyway; they discourage job creation - or at the very least, give companies one more reason to set up shop in the suburbs. But it's still up to Congress to solve the district's real problem, which is the federal government's failure to adequately pay for its keep.

District residents and private employers endure one of the highest tax burdens in the nation. That's the cost of having the federal government as a principal employer. It means 40 percent of the city's property can't be taxed, nor can 70 percent of the income earned there. D.C. has no state to support it either, but the city does have a high poverty rate and a demand for government services.

Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents the district as a nonvoting House delegate, has proposed that Congress make an annual payment of $800 million to address this disparity. This seems only fair. Like Baltimore's, the district's population has been in decline, and high taxes are part of the spiraling nature of the problem. The federal reimbursement - a kind of payment in lieu of taxes - would give the city a chance to raise revenue and lower taxes at the same time.

And while Congress is on the subject, they should also look favorably on Virginia Republican Rep. Tom Davis' bill to give the district a vote in the House of Representatives. If D.C. residents must endure so much heavy taxation, they ought to have at least a bare minimum of representation.

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