- The Washington Times - Monday, July 14, 2003

D.C. lawmakers yesterday enthusiastically backed a lawsuit against Congress, hoping to pave the way for a commuter tax.

“We are languishing without the ability to tax commuters, as 41 states do,” said D.C. Council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, whose district includes the D.C. offices of some of the nation’s largest corporations.

Local officials agreed to sign on as plaintiffs to a lawsuit challenging a congressional rule barring the city of 575,000 residents from taxing income and revenues earned by nonresidents and businesses headquartered elsewhere.

The lawsuit, expected to be filed within two weeks, challenges provisions of the Home Rule Act of 1973, which in effect has exempted approximately 70 percent of the 1.7 million people who work in the city each day from paying D.C. income taxes.

Officials contend the measure has forced poor city residents to pay for police and fire protection, roads and other services used daily by tourists and commuters from the more affluent suburbs, who do not contribute to their costs.

“We’re overtaxing and overregulating our citizens and businesses as a result,” Mayor Anthony A. Williams said. He has promised to write the U.S. Justice Department asking it to abstain from joining in defense of the federal government in the lawsuit.

Local officials cite a report prepared by the General Accounting Office, a congressional investigative agency, indicating the city loses between $470 million and $1.1 billion annually by not being able to tax commuters and companies based elsewhere.

“We can’t even tax our own employees who live elsewhere,” said council member Kevin Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat.

About 17,000 city-government employees live in the surrounding suburbs. Most of the commuters come from Virginia and Maryland, though others travel from West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

“We subsidize the suburbs. What lunacy is that?” said council member Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, one of only two Republicans elected at-large in the city, both of whom voted for the measure.

U.S. Reps. Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, and James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, have spoken out repeatedly against a commuter tax for the city.

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican and chairman of the House subcommittee overseeing D.C. affairs, has termed the measure “laughable.”

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