Then, 10 members of Congress from Maryland and Virginia signed a letter to the mayor and the D.C. Council last week asking them to drop the fee, saying it would undermine the region’s success with mass transit. The letter noted, “At no time were the local and state governments, which either operate or subsidize the commuter bus services, informed or invited to comment about this proposal. In fact, they still have not been notified after the fact.”
The District’s delegate to Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), also intervened with a call to D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), and Mendelson said Tuesday that the fee “is disappearing” and will not be approved when the council takes its final budget vote next week.
The quiet spat between the District and its neighbors is part of a long-running debate about commuter taxes in the Washington region. Federal law prohibits the city from imposing a commuter tax, and in 2005 a federal appeals court ruled that the District could not impose such a tax without congressional approval.
But that didn’t stop the D.C. Council from creating what suburban jurisdictions believed was clearly a tax. The council estimated that the fee would cost riders five cents per trip, or 10 cents every day. Both Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) of Maryland and Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) of Virginia said the additional cost would push more people back into their cars, “thereby increasing congestion on and maintenance costs for both Virginia’s and the District’s roadway networks,” McDonnell wrote.
Mendelson said he hadn’t seen the letters from the governors, but did receive calls from Norton and others. He said that the $273,000 raised by the fee is “a very small amount” in relation to the District’s $11 billion budget, and so “it’s better for us just to figure this out.”
Local politicians and transportation experts said they feared that establishing a small fee would open the door to increasing the fee in the future.
“It’s a backdoor attempt to get a commuter tax, which the District has been trying to get through forever and ever,” said Loudoun County Supervisor Ken Reid (R-Leesburg), whose board issued a resolution last week denouncing the charge. Reid noted the District’s long-standing complaint of “taxation without representation” in Congress and said, “they want to charge us without even discussing it with us.”