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Chances slim for District's commuter tax, Evans says

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Photo - Morning traffic along 37th Street, NW Washington D.C., Friday, July 27, 2012
Morning traffic along 37th Street, NW Washington D.C., Friday, July 27, 2012
Local,DC,Alan Blinder

The District notched a key victory last week with President Obama's go-ahead to install a city-sponsored statue in the Capitol, but a top D.C. official acknowledged that a more lucrative goal -- the implementation of a commuter tax -- likely remains out of reach for now.

"Two percent, and that might be generous," Ward 2 D.C. Councilman Jack Evans, who recently renewed his push to Congress to endorse a commuter tax, said of the odds of one being created. "It's unfair. It's ridiculous, actually."

The District has long sought the authority to tax the incomes of non-D.C. residents who work in the city as a form of reimbursement for expenses associated with hosting hundreds of thousands of workers. Had D.C. been able to levy a commuter tax in 2011, a city study found, the District would have banked about $800 million.

Outside D.C.
D.C. residents also leave town for work. City officials estimated District residents earned $6.5 billion outside D.C. in 2011.

Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh said she thought the District had to continue seeking the tax, even though it has been repeatedly rebuffed.

"I think we have to keep asking because the inherent unfairness of it cries out for some remedy," she said. "We ask and we ask, and we don't get anything."

Earlier this year, a top congressional Republican said he wanted to schedule a hearing to explore a commuter tax and ideas linked to it.

"I think we should, after the election, start thinking about how we're going to deal with the only place that doesn't have the ability to tax people who earn their income in that place," said Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican who chairs the House committee with oversight of District matters.

A spokesman for Issa didn't respond to a request for comment about the status of a hearing.

Evans said he hoped his proposal would prompt Issa to move forward, but he acknowledged a public forum was unlikely to move passionate opponents.

"The Maryland and Virginia delegations will always be against it," Evans said. "The District shouldn't get screwed because Maryland and Virginia don't want to get screwed."

Cheh said Virginia was especially wary.

"Sometimes, I have this image in my mind of us having a big hose and plugging it into Arlington County and just sending dollars over there," she said.

But officials in Maryland and Virginia have repeatedly argued that their residents, as federal taxpayers, give the District plenty of money.

"Everybody in America pays to support the District of Columbia," Rep. Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, said in July. "Everybody pays that because it's the capital of the United States of America."

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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