- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 22, 2006

There comes a time when raising fees and taxes to help pay for certain services is inevitable for big-city mayors, and Washington’s Tony Williams is no exception. In fact, while Mr. Williams fought the rising costs and bloated size of government while he was Marion Barry’s chief financial officer, he seems to be moving in the wrong direction as he completes his second term as the city’s chief executive officer.

To be sure, tax-cutting measures by the D.C. Council welcomed Mr. Williams to City Hall during his first mayoral term, and the mayor ended up yielding to the council’s hardened stance. Fast forward to 2006, as Mr. Williams winds down his final year in office, and he’s at the table with a tax increase yet again.

The council held some interesting hearings last week on the mayor’s Omnibus Parking Act, a legislative package that, among other things, would raise parking taxes on D.C. residents, limit parking privileges for D.C. residents and broaden parking privileges for the disabled.

We reserve commenting on the portion of the bill that addresses the handicapped, mostly because it mandates that the “person with the disability must be in the motor vehicle” when the vehicle is driven into or out of a parking space. It’s an unfair stipulation for several reasons — and if policy-makers take a few moments to consider wheelchairs and walkers, the strategic placement of ramps, and inclement weather, steps and a few other factors that often force disabled persons to be dropped off before the vehicle is parked, we think they, too, will eventually see how ridiculous that particular mandate is.

As for the regulations addressing residential parking, we oppose both goals, and we are more than pleased to articulate our reasons why. First of all, the residential parking stickers, which grant residents unlimited parking within their neighborhoods, are levied on residents and visitors who permanently or temporarily reside on streets that limit parking because of their proximity to major corridors, special venues (like RFK Stadium) or shopping areas. The initial intent behind enacting the tax was to: A) punish commuters, B) ensure parking convenience for residents and C) generate tax revenue. What has happened, however, is the reverse; increasing revenues generated by the parking permits (and meters, for that matter) have become the No. 1 goal of policy-makers.

Moreover, while residents themselves must petition the government for residential-parking designation, overzealous ticket writers are quick to ticket vehicles that are parked in front of the resident’s own home.

At present, residents can pay the tax on however many residential permits are necessary to ward off the ticket police. But the mayor’s legislative proposal, if passed by the council, would change that, too, by limiting the number of per-household permits and increasing the tax. The bill calls for: A) limiting the permits to three per household, regardless of the number of vehicles registered at that home address, and B) creating a progressive tax structure that raises the tax from $15 per permit to $25, $50 and $100 for a first, second and third permit.

Lawmakers heard both yeas and nays from the public on the mayor’s parking bill. Indeed, even council members — who in 2002 exempted themselves from many parking regulations, courtesy of legislation sponsored by Republican Carol Schwartz (see her letter to editor on this page) — chided the mayor’s proposal. Yet, in this highly charged election year, there remains the possibility that the rhetoric is no more than smoke and mirrors.

The cost of running the city has indeed risen since Mr. Williams became CEO in 1999, and if his stadium proposal, which calls for public financing, comes to be, the costs will rise still further. But raising taxes to, as the legislation claims, “cover administrative costs,” is what it is — a tax increase. D.C. residents should not have to pay to park in front of or near their own homes.

Residential parking is at a premium in many neighborhoods, and it is an issue that must be addressed by policy-makers and taxpayers. But pushing the costs of correcting that burden onto residents is not the solution. The mayor’s Omnibus Parking Amendment Act should be tossed into the waste-paper bin that’s labeled “to be shredded.”

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