Commuter tax remains specter for D.C. statehood

A presidential vehicle, parked outside the White House in Washington, Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013, sports Washington\'s "Taxation Without Representation" license plate. The White House has said that President Barack Obama\'s official vehicles will begin using the symbolic license plates during the inauguration events. Statehood for D.C. has been debated for years but the threat of a tax on Virginia and Maryland commuter remains a sticking point., (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
'We deserve to be a part of America'

wtopstaff | November 15, 2014 6:05 am

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WASHINGTON – A grassroots leader for D.C. statehood says the creation of the 51st state could ultimately result in a commuter tax but that it shouldn’t prevent congressional approval.

“The right thing to do is to let people who pay taxes in the United States of America have full and equal representation,” says Josh Burch with Neighbors United for Statehood.

He says he agrees with Sen. Tim Kaine who through an aide told the Washington Post that the specter of a commuter tax on Maryland and Virginia workers is a “significant” issue but that is shouldn’t preclude D.C. statehood.

Kaine along with Maryland’s two senators Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin have co-sponsored a bill that would create the 51st state of New Columbia. Introduced in 2013, the bill has yet to have a hearing. Fourteen other senators have also signed onto the bill.

Burch wants to shrink the size of the federal District to incorporate the National Mall and federal buildings that skirt it. The remaining business district and residential neighborhoods would fall under the new state.

Burch says the District is at a financial disadvantage because so many properties are owned by the federal government, which doesn’t pay property taxes. The federal government also doesn’t pay income or sales taxes, unlike private businesses and residents.

But he says if the new state were to impose a commuter tax to make up for those lost tax dollars, it could trigger copycat taxes from surrounding communities.

“If we impose a commuter tax on Marylanders and Virginians, they in turn would do it on us. There are many people in the District who work outside of our borders. So there would be a trade off,” Burch says.

As a federal district, D.C. must have its budget and laws approved by Congress. Even mundane issues, like the height of buildings, must have congressional approval.

Burch says he and other statehood supporters face an uphill battle. The group plans to target sitting senators in hopes of gaining their support as well.

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