- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 15, 2012

It took God six days to create the earth, but it took only one vote for the District to charge you for using it. Mayor Vincent C. Gray proposed taxing people who use public parks for things like popular boot camps, tennis lessons or baseball camp. While the city’s leaders are always thinking of creative ways to bilk residents, charging for use of the air and earth has taken things too far.

The Committee on Libraries, Parks, Recreation and Planning held a hearing July 11 on the mayor’s proposed bill to let the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) “increase the revenue it collects at sites.” Mr. Gray wrote to the D.C. Council that the term “concessions” purposely was defined broadly in the bill to mean “a revenue generating activity, event, class, program, operation or service, for the benefit, enjoyment, education, amusement or convenience of the public.” That basically means every human activity in a park could be taxed.

The parks department controls 900 acres of parkland with hundreds of athletic fields, playgrounds, dog parks and community gardens. Commercial activity is illegal in city parks, and park rangers and police regularly kick people out of the parks if they are caught doing yoga lessons or other group exercise.

“The committee is using the recess period to review best practices from other jurisdictions as we work on the bill to ensure that residents have access to affordable and quality recreational services throughout the District,” a spokesman for Chairman Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat, said Wednesday.

The legislation is mysteriously lacking in specifics pertaining to the amount of the tax, leaving it up to the mayor to determine how much to rake in and whether to charge a flat rate or a percentage of the company’s profits. The concessions tax is on top of the permit fees required for things like use of baseball or soccer fields.

DPR Director Jesus Aguirre said at the July hearing that he envisions that someone who gives tennis lessons or teaches a boot camp a couple Saturdays a month would have to pay for a permit plus the concessions fee, which would be based on how much the instructor charges. That, of course, would be in addition to all the individual taxes, corporate taxes, property taxes and sales taxes already paid that are supposed to support public areas.

The local tax craze mirrors debate on the national level over the attack on small businesses. If President Obama gets his way, a small business that makes more than $200,000 and files as an individual will get a tax increase on Jan. 1. More than 700,000 companies in the United States will be hit with this new 39.6 percent levy. A D.C. resident also pays local income taxes of $2,200 plus 8.5 percent on excess above $40,000. This means that those small businesses will be paying almost 50 percent in taxes before handing over a check for using a public park.

Taxes rob money from the private sector that otherwise would be invested or spent on consumer goods. Whether on the local or national level, the result of excessive taxation is less job creation and economic growth. The D.C. Council should nix the mayor’s latest scheme to bilk residents for using God’s green earth.

Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.