Wilson Building, Stadium May Send Message on D.C. Taxes, Voting Rights

By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 13, 2007

D.C. Council members want to attach electronic message boards to the John A. Wilson Building and the new baseball stadium to show the amount of federal taxes paid by city residents to emphasize the point that the city still lacks a full vote in Congress.

The signs would be designed to achieve the same effect as the "national debt clock" in Times Square, which dramatized the issue of federal spending with numbers spiraling upward.

"All the tourists who come to the District of Columbia . . . will see literally the amount of dollars District residents are paying in taxes, still without representation" in Congress, council member Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large) said at a hearing last week on the proposal.

The message-board bill was introduced by council members Carol Schwartz (R-At Large), Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) and Brown. The 10 other council members have expressed support for it; a date has not yet been scheduled for a vote.

Brown said the council needed to take steps to motivate a "lethargic local community" and inform the rest of the country about the D.C. voting-rights issue.

The city's House delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), can vote in committee but not on final legislation.

A bill giving the District a full seat in the House passed that body in April but stalled in the Senate when Republicans filibustered.

At the D.C. Council hearing, the city's "shadow" congressional delegation spoke in favor of the message boards, as did representatives of the advocacy group DC Vote and the D.C. Association of Realtors.

Gregory A. O'Dell, chief executive of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, cautioned that the city would have to get the Nationals' permission to post a message board on the stadium, because the lease gave the team control of signs there.

"There may be a potential conflict. We have to see if that can be worked out," O'Dell said.

Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) bristled at the potential roadblock, noting that the "citizens of the District of Columbia paid $611 million for this stadium."

Gray said D.C. residents pay about $3 billion a year in federal taxes, more than residents in seven states.

Brown's spokesman, Michael Price, said the sign for the Wilson building would cost about $27,000. According to the legislation, money for the message boards would come from the council and the baseball stadium's construction budget.

Price said Brown was trying to find private donors to pay for them.

Brown said he hoped the message boards could be in place by April, "for our most- and least-favorite activities, watching baseball and paying taxes."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company