- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Attempts to impose a commuter tax in the District took a new turn yesterday.

An appeals court rejected the city’s efforts earlier this month, but D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty introduced legislation yesterday to hold a referendum on the matter.

Mr. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, said if D.C. voters approve the referendum, it would amend the city charter, removing the commuter tax restriction Congress put into place when it granted the city home rule in 1973.

“Citizens have the right to vote to change the charter,” said Mr. Fenty, who is running for mayor in next year’s primary. But he acknowledged that if the referendum passes, it still must be sent to Congress for approval — like all D.C. laws — before it is enacted.

Even so, Mr. Fenty thinks there is value placing the issue before Congress. He said lawmakers would think twice before rejecting an idea passed by thousands of voters.

“Can you imagine letting citizens vote in Baghdad and not D.C.?” Mr. Fenty asked. “You can’t celebrate democracy in another country at the same time it’s being rejected at home.”

Nine of 13 D.C. Council members support the measure. The goal is to have the referendum on the ballot next November.

An estimated 500,000 workers pour into the city each weekday, then return to homes elsewhere. Most commute to the Virginia and Maryland suburbs, though some travel as far as West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Commuter tax proponents argue that city residents unfairly pay more taxes to cover the costs of services commuters use.

On Nov. 4, the U.S. Court of Appeals unanimously upheld a lower court’s decision to throw out a case challenging the congressional ban on a D.C. commuter tax. Both courts cited Congress’ authority over the District.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who was a party to the lawsuit, favors a commuter tax, but his spokeswoman, Sharon Gang, said the mayor has serious concerns with Mr. Fenty’s approach. Mr. Williams has said his administration is looking at its options.

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