Wednesday, February 18, 2004

The D.C. commuter tax is a gooey idea that never dies, ever reinvented to explain whatever deficiencies or shortfalls are lurking at City Hall.

It is the tax of last resort in a city that has taxed its residents to the extreme and discouraged small-business owners from waging the good entrepreneurial fight.

It is the tax that carries a certain currency within the borders of the dysfunction because it would sock it to the commuters from the suburbs. It is their turn to grapple with the bureaucratic monster. Many, no doubt, are already familiar with it as gritty survivors who fled the mind-numbing scene.

Some folks are funny about the clearing of secondary roads after a snowstorm. All too many are in favor of this procedure, as opposed to the spring-thaw method employed in the city.

The implied claim of the lawyer breaking a sweat on behalf of the city is that a commuter tax would improve the efficiency of the bureaucracy. The lawyer might as well be trying to sell untreated drinking water from the Anacostia River.

The city’s bureaucracy has shown itself to be the quintessential black hole of fiscal impudence.

More money is inevitably said to be the cure, although money is the least of the problems, judging by the well-documented waste of the D.C. public school system, to cite one oasis of waste.

With the exception of issuing parking tickets and placing speed cameras at more and more intersections, the city is a public service mess, reduced to the two speeds of slow and slower, if that. A trip to a city agency is liable to bring a sigh, followed by gnashing of teeth and a case of indigestion.

These are your considerable tax dollars at work, if work is the right word.

Yet the city lawyer, in all earnestness, insists, “No matter how efficiently they run their government, they have to overtax their residents.”

At least there is one concession in the assertion.

The city is not unlike the alcoholic who needs another drink to calm the nerves or the binge shopper who needs another credit card to satisfy the urge or the gambling addict who needs just one more loan to stop the losing streak.

The city merely needs another revenue stream to end the madness, if not improve the energy level of the sleepyheads in the employ of the Department of Motor Vehicles.

The city’s public caretakers, good intentions or not, have taxed and fined themselves out of credibility.

As novel and impossible as the concept might be, they might want to endeavor to fix that which is already broken, instead of resorting to the reflexive thought of a commuter tax.

The bloated bureaucracy of 32,000 employees is one pernicious element of the budgetary stress.

No one in the city of 573,000 ever has been able to make a compelling case that justifies the glut of do-nothing sycophants.

Baltimore, the sister municipality up the parkway, manages with 15,000 city employees.

The city not only employs too many for life, it also has the habit of employing the dead, the corrupt and the resume-challenged. Whenever this or that is exposed to be less than prudent, the city’s wise ones feel obligated to hire an outside consultant to be told what they instinctively already know, often at a cost that stretches beyond six figures.

None of it is intended to be a genuine effort to stem the inefficiency, not after so many like-minded attempts in the past. It is politics, the act of seeming to be doing something when, in truth, it is business as usual.

A commuter tax?

Mayor Anthony A. Williams and his supporters must be kidding. The appeal ought to be made with a laugh track.

Whichever points of the contention that may have merit, city officials must know on some level that more money is not the answer, not when they have demonstrated an incredible lack of appreciation for the money they already handle.

Each new case of inertia points anew to a city that ignores the obvious.

Did someone mention the onset of another pothole season?

Right. A commuter tax probably could eliminate this persistent bane of motorists.

Be careful with your front-end alignment out there.

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