Fenty Revives Debate On Taxing Commuters

By Eric M. Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 16, 2005

D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4) is calling for a citywide referendum on a commuter tax for District workers who live in Virginia and Maryland.

Fenty said he introduced the measure yesterday in response to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruling Nov. 4 that said the District cannot impose a commuter tax without the permission of Congress.

Fenty said the "advisory referendum" would be held next November in the District if approved by the council. Although the Court of Appeals has ruled that a D.C. commuter tax would be unconstitutional, Fenty said the council should pass one anyway to register the city's objection and to get the city's chief financial officer to study the impact such a tax would have on District revenue and tax rates.

Fenty, who is running for mayor, said eight council members signed on in support of the measure yesterday because "residents are fed up, and the time for sitting on the sidelines on our hands is over.''

Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) dismissed Fenty's effort last week, calling it "silly" and "just a way to get some publicity and get some people razzed up."

Williams said it is clear that the commuter tax enjoys overwhelming support among District residents. Conducting a citywide referendum is "just proving the obvious."

Also yesterday, the D.C. Council set Dec. 6 for the first vote on a citywide smoking ban and approved legislation to create a District Department of the Environment.

The department would serve as an umbrella agency for the numerous environmentally related services being handled by other agencies. It would also be the main agency in response to such issues as lead in drinking water. The city's concerns with lead spurred the move to create the department.

"In my case, the lead and water issue made me support this even more," said council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large), the lead sponsor of the legislation.

Although Williams and council leaders support the effort, bureaucratic hurdles remain as agencies try to stop some services and employees from being included in the department.

Schwartz said this year's budget includes money for consolidation efforts.

Other legislation long in the making, a citywide smoking ban, was placed on the council's Dec. 6 agenda for the first of two council votes.

If passed, the legislation would immediately ban smoking in restaurant dining areas and require restaurant bars and bar sections to go smoke-free in January 2007. The bill includes exemptions for places such as cigar bars and retail smoke shops.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company