Key Republican wants to ‘start thinking about’ Washington commuter tax

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. National Journal file photo

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said last week that he would consider legislation that allows Washington to institute a commuter tax on people who come into the district to work but live in surrounding areas.

“I think we should, after the election, start thinking about how we’re going to deal with the only place that doesn’t have the ability to tax people who earn their income in that place,” Issa said.

He fell short of actually endorsing a commuter tax, but said Congress should have a hearing on the impact its ban.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman commented on the commuter tax after Washington’s chief financial officer, Natwar M. Gandhi, told a subcommittee hearing that the large number of employees who commute from Maryland and Virginia severely reduces the city’s tax base.

Nearly 165,000 federal workers report to Washington-based offices every day, according to the Office of Personnel Management. The 2000 census found that only 28 percent of District of Columbia workers live in the city. If that ratio holds for the subset of federal employees specifically, more than 118,000 feds could be affected by a commuter tax in Washington. More recent data could alter that estimate, however.

The 1973 Home Rule Act, which allowed Washington to have its own mayor and council, has barred the district from imposing a commuter tax.

Eleanor Holmes Norton, the district’s representative in Congress who is not permitted to vote, said she is skeptical a commuter tax could overcome the pressures the Virginia and Maryland delegations would put forth to prevent it.

“This is a war I don’t think can be won,” Norton told the Washington Times.

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