- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 7, 2004

The city slips its hand into the back pocket of home buyers via an onerous tax stamp that sullies the welcome mat of “city living, dc style!”

This is the tax of all taxes, a stunning act of hubris even by the limited standards of a city accustomed to fleecing the masses.

The city’s bloated bureaucracy, in considering itself everyone’s favorite charity, requests a 1.5 percent donation on each residential transaction.

No one can explain ably why the city treats itself to 1.5 percent of a home’s sale price, or how it came up with that figure, but it has come to be considered a greeting intended to inure the victims to the tax bills and tax increases ahead.

There is no denying that city officials have certain issues that stress their capacity to manage the budget.

They have to pay for a public school system that does not work. They have to pay for this or that missing bundle of loot. They have to pay for all the laptop computers and flat-screen televisions that employees felt compelled to purchase with city-issued credit cards. They also have to pay for all the outside consultants who come to town to fix whatever is broken, which often remains broken after the consultants have completed the consulting process.

No, there is nothing like being an outside consultant in the city.

If you are an outside consultant, you stroke your chin a couple of times and go, “Hmm. I see.” You then go to collect your six-figure check from the city. Two years pass, the outside consultant departs, and the city is left with the bill and the following insight, “Hmm, I see.”

The various municipalities in Virginia and Maryland rarely have these kinds of expenses, which is why the city smiles broadly while requesting a 1.5 percent donation from the next sucker who takes up its offer of residence.

The city’s tax stamp is almost four times higher than that in Virginia and Maryland, no small difference in an ever-escalating real estate market.

Maryland and Virginia receive about $400 in tax revenue per $100,000 on the sale price of a home, while the city fills its piggy bank with $1,500 per $100,000.

There is no justification for this institutional insult, only a deep need by the bureaucracy to pass along its budgetary inabilities to innocent consumers.

City officials, in becoming addicted to burdening the citizenry with taxes, mystery fees and complex parking regulations, appear to have forgotten that they are in public office to serve.

The public servants of Washington would be considerably more noble if they just stood at various Metro stops with a tin cup in hand. Instead, they bury their money-raising activities in eye-glazing legislation and fine print and hope no one protests too loudly.

The 1.5 percent outrage is at odds with the mayor’s plan to increase the city’s population by 100,000 in the next decade. The first-time city home buyer tax credit, up to $5,000, expired in 2003, its fate pending.

Here is what the mayor and his advisers have to ponder if his vision of a healthy, whole urban center is to be: They have to stop breathing on the nape of the populace. They have to resist the urge to add more and more complexities to urban life. Before they go around looking to squeeze another dollar from somewhere, they might want to demonstrate an efficiency in their management of the budget.

Washington has one of the highest per-pupil expenditures in the nation, and yet only embarrassing national test scores to show for it. How can that be? How is that condition allowed to persist?

If you are going to have a crummy school system, you might as well absolve taxpayers from paying top dollar for it. Right. There is no chance of that.

Washington’s public servants inevitably find it easier to hold up another dupe looking to be in their midst.

Theirs is the whopper of all tax stamps, with no explanation. Of course, no explanation is really necessary. Someone has to pay for all those outside consultants.

It is not cheap finding someone who can say, “Hmm, I see.”

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