Monday, May 15, 2006

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday refused to revive a lawsuit by the District that would allow the city to impose a tax on commuters without the permission of Congress.

The decision, issued without comment, is the latest in a long line of denials by the court system and federal government to allow the District the ability to levy taxes on nonresidents.

The Home Rule Act requires that Congress give permission to the District before it could tax the more than 500,000 people who commute into the city each day.

The lawsuit sought to overturn that law.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton said yesterday that she is not surprised.

She said the rejection highlights a bill she introduced last year that would give the District federal compensation for the toll commuters take on the city’s resources.

“It would’ve been a wonderful miracle if the court had done this, but for a conservative court to take this [case], we all understood it would be a leap,” Mrs. Norton said. “This at least makes a strong case for why Congress should pass my bill, which is a proxy and a good proxy.”

Mrs. Norton’s bill, which is co-sponsored by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, is making its way through the House.

If passed by Congress, the Norton bill would give the District $800 million annually in compensation.

Walter Smith, executive director of D.C. Appleseed, which brought the suit, also expressed dissatisfaction but thinks the effort at least brought attention to Mrs. Norton’s bill.

“Of course we are disappointed,” he said. “But for us all this means is that the courts have effectively kicked the issue back to the Congress, and we hope the Congress will move ahead on the bill.”

Ron White, a spokesman for Mr. Davis, applauded the court’s decision not to hear the case.

“Mr. Davis has always believed that the way to deal with the city’s structural issues is not by taxing commuters,” Mr. White said. “It’s the nation’s capital, it’s a national responsibility, and to try to have commuters foot the bill for that is a non-starter.”

Mr. White said Mr. Davis fully supports Mrs. Norton’s compensation bill.

A U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in November that the city cannot impose the tax on its own.

That ruling was signed by three justices, including John G. Roberts Jr., who heard the case before he was appointed chief justice. Justice Roberts recused himself from yesterday’s decision.

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