- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 4, 2001

For the fourth consecutive year the District is in the black, and everybody is happy. The city posted a huge surplus too $241 million and that really pleases a lot of people. All this good news is possible because the city closed its books on fiscal 2000 ahead of schedule, so another "hip hip hooray" is definitely in order. As for a fourth cheer, well, D.C. officials blew the opportunity. But all is not lost.

Notwithstanding the good budgetary news, District officials are pushing for a commuter tax. They want to tax people who work in the city, most of whom live in nearby Maryland and Virginia, and ask the feds to reimburse said commuters via a federal credit. The District's congressional delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, would perform the legislative handiwork for the proposition, while the rest of the city's elected leadership would do the cheerleading. They really needn't bother, because a commuter tax is a commuter tax is a commuter tax and any such proposal that arrives on Capitol Hill should be stamped dead on arrival.

However, for several reasons the District deserves congressional consideration regarding additional federal funds. This is the nation's capital, and the caretakers of the nation's capital i.e. Congress and the city's elected leadership should be able to depend on an annual compensation in lieu of taxes.

The federal government ended such payments after it became clear the city was not being held accountable for its mistakes. As a matter of fact, the District's books were at one point incomprehensible. When the congressionally created control board began combing the District's books in 1995, nobody knew how much the city had in its coffers, where the money went off to or how deep the city was in debt. To have the city in such great financial shape now with annual balanced budgets, financial welcome mats from Wall Street and surpluses to boot means the city is well on its way toward financial stability.

The future is not so, well, clear. "I think the long-term outlook is not so encouraging," Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat and member of the House Appropriations District of Columbia subcommittee, said recently. "It's like a toddler that's taken several steps on its own, but I don't trust it to walking down the street on its own."

If that is indeed the case, then perhaps there is yet another reason why Congress should seriously consider restoring a federal payment. According to current federal law, the control board will go dormant at the end of the current fiscal year (Sept. 30). Therefore any deliberations about the city's future relationship with the federal government should place the control board front and center.

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