- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, has proposed using the District as a “laboratory” to test how a flat federal income tax would affect its residents and economy.

Mr. Brownback said the District is perfect for the experiment because it is not a state.

“Here you have a federal enclave, as much as maybe people in the District don’t like that terminology,” he said. “Doing it in the District would give a real-world venue where we could witness what it could do for the country.”

The proposed system would tax District residents at a flat rate, instead of taxing them under the existing system that includes such factors as income and family size.

Mr. Brownback said at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing yesterday that residents could participate either in the flat-tax system or the existing one.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat and the District’s nonvoting member of Congress, does not support the proposal.

She also moved quickly to clarify that a flat tax that she proposed in 1997 was not like the one Mr. Brownback is proposing.

Mrs. Norton said she and D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, a Democrat, strongly object to an attempt to impose a flat tax on the District. She also said such a plan puts an unfair burden on low-income residents because it removes many of their exemptions.

Sources said congressional lawmakers most likely would reject the proposal. This is not the firsttime that the federal government has used the District to test projects. In 2004, Congress approved an education package that established an experimental school-voucher program in the District worth $40 million annually until 2009. President Bush supported the proposal and signed it into law.

Supporters of Mr. Brownback’s proposal said it would bring businesses and middle-income families into the District because the rate could be as low as 15 percent, instead of the graduated rates used elsewhere.

“D.C. would be the Hong Kong of America,” said Daniel Mitchell, a political economist with the Heritage Foundation. “Income and wealth would go up so much that there would be a huge influx of tax revenue for the city. It would be a mecca.”

The Williams administration said imposing the plan only on the District would be unfair.

“The theory of the flat tax is a lot more appealing then the reality,” said Vincent Morris, an administration spokesman. “We would have serious concerns that a flat tax…would be neither fair nor progressive.”

“If D.C. feels bad about being a laboratory in the federal district sense of it, then I would offer to pair them with [my home state of] Kansas,” Mr. Brownback said.

Paul Strauss, the District’s nonvoting shadow senator, said the District is the only place in the United States that such a test would be constitutional because, under the 16th Amendment, states cannot be taxed unequally by the federal government.

“I don’t think you can constitutionally tax Kansas differently at the federal level than D.C.,” he said.

Mr. Strauss said the District is not considered a state and has no voting rights in Congress, so federal lawmakers can force residents “to make them sandwiches if it’s deemed to be in the federal interest. …And I think that’s probably why the lack of D.C. statehood makes us the only guinea pig for this experiment.”

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