- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 29, 2003

The Montgomery County Council yesterday unanimously rejected a resolution that would require suburbanites who work in the District to pay a commuter tax, joining other jurisdictions in rejecting the funding for the city.

The resolution’s defeat came five days after city residents, the D.C. Council and Mayor Anthony A. Williams filed a federal lawsuit to allow the District to impose a commuter tax that would garner $1.4 billion in levies now paid to Maryland and Virginia.

Montgomery County Council member Howard A. Denis, a Bethesda Republican who co-sponsored the resolution, said it should be sent to state lawmakers.

“It angers me because it’s so bogus,” he said. “It’s akin to declaring the Constitution unconstitutional. This is a lawsuit testing whether Congress has the authority to prohibit the city from imposing a commuter tax, and Congress clearly has that authority.”

Mr. Denis also said he was “distressed and saddened” by the situation but thought it was necessary.

“If there is a need for additional resources for the city, then it is an issue for the country as a whole and not the community,” he said.

Council member George L. Leventhal, at-large Democrat, said Montgomery County would feel pressure to impose a similar tax to avoid a “border war” with the District.

The decision by Montgomery County lawmakers came the same day Virginia Gov. Mark Warner said on WTOP-AM radio that the commonwealth opposed the tax.

Mr. Warner said he would oppose any efforts, from a legal or legislative standpoint, to impose a commuter tax.

Officials in Fairfax and Prince William counties also oppose the tax.

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, has said he opposes the tax.

“It is a bad idea,” he said. “You can’t throw out a worse message to people and businesses.”

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a Democrat, has taken a different stance from the county council.

Mr. Duncan said he was disappointed by the lawsuit, but would support a long-standing proposal to allocate to the District some federal income tax paid by commuters.

Mr. Duncan did not return a phone call yesterday for comment on this article.

D.C. City Council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, has assailed opponents of the lawsuit.

He specifically named Virginians, who were “living up to their reputation of being narrow-minded.”

Said Mr. Evans: “When you think of people in Virginia, you think of them as backward. And they confirm it on something like this.”

He had similar comments about the Montgomery County Council’s vote.

“It is not a surprising reaction, and that is why we filed the lawsuit,” Mr. Evans said. “Whether Montgomery or anyone else likes it doesn’t matter because they are not going to support it.”

The lawsuit, organized by Mr. Evans, states that more than 70 percent of the personal income earned in the District goes to nonresidents, and that the D.C. government cannot function adequately without imposing on its residents an income tax significantly higher than those in states.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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