Saturday, November 05, 2005

DC Loses Lawsuit Against U.S. Constitution

From The Washington Times:

A federal appeals court yesterday ruled that Congress has the authority to prevent the D.C. government from taxing commuters.

In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District said the Constitution clearly grants Congress "exclusive authority" to govern the District, tossing out a lawsuit brought by more than 30 plaintiffs -- including Mayor Anthony A. Williams -- who sought to impose a commuter tax.

"The policy choices are Congress' to make," the court said. The decision was written by Judge John G. Roberts, now the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. He was a member of the appellate court when the lawsuit was argued there in April.

For the record, the exclusive authority provision is from Article I, Section 8:
The Congress shall have Power... To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District... as may... become the Seat of the Government of the United States...
What part of "in all Cases whatsoever" don't they understand?

Reaction to yesterday's ruling, which upheld a U.S. District Court decision last year, was mixed across the region.

U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, a Virginia Republican who has supported a plan that would give the District a vote in the House, hailed the decision and said it came as no surprise to him. He said the city needs to develop its tax base and not "soak commuters."

D.C.'s existing taxes are one of the major reasons I won't be moving there any time soon. The District should work with Congress to solve its internal problems, not steal $1.4 billion in tax revenue from neighboring states.

D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty, a Ward 4 Democrat who is running for mayor next year, said he will introduce a bill to call for a referendum that would abolish the D.C. Home Rule Charter's ban on a commuter tax, then impose such a tax.

"The court's decision is outrageous," Mr. Fenty said. "It flies in the face of why this country was founded.

"It is a matter of fundamental fairness that we move to release the shackles of this congressionally imposed ban on taxing income earned in the District," he said.

And he's not even afraid of that pesky Constitution.
Mr. Williams, a Democrat, also voiced his displeasure with the court ruling, noting that cities such as New York and Philadelphia have levied taxes on commuters.
Although commuter taxes are already questionable policy (perhaps they could be described as imperialist taxation) there's one notable difference here: the Constitution does not grant Congress exclusive authority over New York or Philadelphia.

More on imperialist taxation:

"The people of the District bear the burden of this unfair limitation," he said. "As we've argued countless times, a commuter tax would not have any impact on Maryland and Virginia residents, who would be able to deduct the taxes they pay to D.C. from their state taxes."

But Maryland Deputy Attorney General Michael Berman disagreed.

"Those other states would be forced to cut services or tax citizens who do not commute into the District to make up the shortfall," said Mr. Berman, who argued the case on behalf of the state last April.

It is unfortunate that Virginia and Maryland had to spend any of their resources fighting this absurd lawsuit.

[Cross-Posted at Observant Observations]

Update, Nov. 17th: DC Commuter Tax Update.


April said...

Fenty is a nut. How does not being allowed to tax folks that don't live in your jurisdiction flying in the face of all this country was founded upon??

This is why I live just barely inside the beltway. The crazies live much more to the center.

Kevin said...

You can be opposed to a commuter tax. That's fine. I can personally attest that daily commuters who work in NYC and live in New Jersey or Connecticut grapple with this all of the time.

But the bottom line is that this is something 40+ communities around the nation do, and it's yet another example of the government paternalism that exists in DC.

You may be right, the very nature of this lawsuit was probably frivolous. But what measures shall the residents of DC take? The writen decision by the court stated that this lawsuit "amounts to little more than a collateral challenge to the District's lack of representation"

They're right, but what shall DC do otherwise? House representation in Congress wouldn't guarantee DC control over their own budget.

Again, Maryland doesn't want DC back via retrocession, but they'll gladly squash any attempts by the city to run their own affairs.

Yes, there's that "pesky Constitution." But the authors of the 1801 act of Congress which gave them budgetary oversight of DC didn't find it to be so "pesky." They interpreted it exactly as they pleased. Residents with the District had voting rights prior to that.

Ultimately, I believe you're right. It has become a popular tactic by interest groups to chip away at an issue if they can't outright defeat or overturn it (see the pro-Life movement and Roe v. Wade). Organizations such as DC Vote, as well as elected officials in DC, need to turn their attention away from inside the beltway, and start lobbying and educating on a national level (granted, very easy for me to say without taking DC Vote's meager annual budget into consideration).

April said...

So Just Barely Inside the Beltway is right, I am so glad Mr. Sullivan agrees.

J. Skipper said...

Since I live all the way across the country I am going to support this tax because it's a user tax and I think you should have to pay even though I don't live there and won't have to pay it myself.

April said...

States should not have an income tax for this very reason. You don't always work where you live. I don't work in the state I live in. Either everyone should pay income tax at the place of employment or the income tax should be only at the national level. States can have point-of-sale sales tax (None of this "I'm for Oregon" crap).

Kevin said...

And you, April, are perfectly entitled to hate taxes and government.

The problem here isn't the commuter tax. You may not like it, but that doesn't mean 40 other places can't do it.

Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution was left ambiguous, probably because the authors didn't forsee the nation's capital becoming such a metropolis (another example of where the founders should've listened more to Mr. Hamilton).

Congress could decide to permit a DC commuter tax, just as Congress has decided to forbid a commuter tax by exercising control over DC's budget.

Simply saying that DC "should work it out with Congress" is absurd. The only thing you work out with Congress is the people who work there. DC has no power in that department, thus there's no reason for any member of Congress to care about DC.

April said...

If you don't like living somewhere that is under the rule of Congress to the extent of DC you are more than welcome to leave. I am sure Maryland would welcome you.

CJ said...

A commuter tax is ridiculous and just another attempt by the thugs running DC government to milk some money to continue funding their mismanagement of the city. It's long been recognized that the government of one's residence (state, county, municipality, etc.) has a taxing authority. Now DC wants to impose a tax on those over whom it has no authority. What then would stop other cities from doing the same? Seattle could decide they need more money and impose a tax on me (I live in Pr. William County). Why not? It'd be just as justifiable. Fairfax could tax the citizens of Dallas also! Why can't DC realize that there are half a million commuters spending money in the city each day and that alone adds more to the city's coffers than any tax will? I propose that all commuters into the city do not spend *any* money on extras while there for a 30-day period. Do not patronize any DC restaurants at lunchtime, do not run errands to CVS, do not buy as much as a newspaper or a cup of coffee for a month. Fenty needs to see just how much commuters are already contributing to DC's economy. Let the citizens of DC be the only supporters of DC businesses and let's see how long those retailers are around.