Anthony Williams to lead D.C. tax review panel

Former D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams, perhaps the most respected of the District’s chief executives, will lead a panel of experts in a nine-month review of the District’s tax code.

Joining Williams (an economist by trade) on the Tax Revision Commission will be David Brunori and Catherine Collins of George Washington University, Stefan Tucker of Venable LLP, Ed Lazere of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, Nicola Whiteman of the Apartment and Office Building Association, Pauline Schneider of Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe LLP, Teresa Hinze of Community Tax Aid Inc. and Tracy Gordon of the Brookings Institution.

The commission was established by the council as part of the fiscal 2012 budget. Council Chairman Kwame Brown was tasked with picking the chair and four other members, and Mayor Vincent Gray was asked to pick another five members.

So who gets credit for luring Williams back to public service? Let’s say, both. Brown pitched the idea first. Then Gray swooped in, offering the position during a January lunch with the former mayor at Bourbon Steak. Williams said “Yes” last week, Brown said, after he was assured of the commission’s independence.

Tax policy should be crafted in a thoughtful, comprehensive manner, Brown said in an interview, not “on the fly” as it has been in recent years. The commission, he said, will hopefully generate ideas to grow the economy, support small businesses and keep families from leaving the District.

The council last year narrowly voted to raise income taxes on residents earning more than $350,000 a year. And members also chose to tax out-of-state municipal bonds purchased after Dec. 31, 2011, following some horse trading on the dais.

“I just think we can’t do this piecemeal,” the council chairman said. “How we’re doing it now is just unsustainable.”

The District last reviewed the tax code in 1998. That commission, chaired by then-World Bank economist (and later Deputy D.C. Chief Financial Officer) Robert Ebel, emerged with a list of nearly 30 recommendations. Some were implemented, for example, consolidating the five real property tax rates (two residential, three commercial) to two.

Many others were not. The 1998 panel, established during the Control Board era, suggested abolishing the corporate income, unincorporated business, tangible personal property and professional business license taxes. It recommended enacting a broad-based, 1.5 percent general business activities tax and limiting the commercial property tax rate to no more than double the residential rate — an idea the city could not afford.

Williams was CFO at the time.

“This talented and highly qualified group of individuals, ably led by Tony Williams, will be immensely valuable to the Council and to me as we work to position our economy and our residents for future growth,” Gray said in a statement.


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