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    On Taxes, Tremors and Monumental Face Lifts

    Updated Thursday, May 13, 1999

    Welcome to's Metro Facts Machine, a human search engine delivering the information you want about the capital region.

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    Q: Last year was my first spring in the area and we attended the Armed Forces Day [air show] at Andrews Air Force Base. People told me it was an annual affair. I just assumed it was on Armed Forces Day again, which this year falls on May 15. Can you tell me anything?Rick G.

    A: Talk about turbulence. First, Air Force officials decided to forego the air show, citing a heavier operations load. Now the Pentagon has overruled the decision. A Post story explains the behind-the-scenes debate about the show, which runs from May 14 to May 16.

    Q: The D.C. income tax rate exceeds how many states? Do such entities as Fannie Mae pay taxes in other cities, unlike their tax-free status in D.C.?Unsigned

    A: Only Montana's top tax rate, at 11 percent, beats the District's 9.5 percent ceiling, according to the Federation of Tax Administrators. But capital residents might soon get a break. The D.C. Council budget would lower that top rate to 8.5 percent over five years. (A Post story details the plan.) The council's budget now faces a vote in Congress.

    Fannie Mae does not pay income taxes to any state or city, though it does pay property tax, even in the District. Congress awarded the income tax exemption because the federally created housing lender is required to maintain offices in every state, according to spokesman David Jeffers. Only Freddie Mac, the other congressionally chartered mortgage lender, has the same exemption and for the same reasons.

    Q: Was there ever an earthquake in the D.C. area?Ann P.

    A: Brace yourself: Quakes aren't only a left coast phenomenon. Howard County had 20 minor tremors in 1993, and last felt a rumble in December 1996. Central and southwest Virginia also shake sometimes. But there's no record of a quake in the District of Columbia.

    The capital region "is one of the quietest in the country" when it comes to earthquakes, says Jim Reger, principal geologist for the Maryland Geological Survey. He has compiled a history of quakes in Maryland. His counterparts in Virginia have prepared a primer on quakes in the commonwealth.

    Q: Why does the Washington Monument look like it is under construction?Jamila W.

    A: If it walks like a duck, and talks like a duck... The scaffolding on the obelisk is the latest step in a two-year, $9.4 million project to clean up the monument. has background on the renovation in a special report.

    Q: What was the population and budget for D.C. in 1961? What are they now?From Sunny Arizona

    A: We couldn't find exact figures for 1961 figures, but did find data for 1960. In that year, Washington had 763,956 residents, ranking it ninth nationwide in population, census figures show. A spokesman for the city's chief financial officer estimates the budget that year was $176 million. Now the population stands at 523,000. And the budget adopted by the D.C. Council this week hit $4.7 billion.

    Q:Why does the president use so many pens when signing a bill?Sandi S.

    A: President Clinton himself answered this question when he signed the line-item veto bill three years ago. "It is customary for a president to give the pens he uses to sign a bill into law to those who did the most for its passage," Clinton said that day. He sent the first four he used on that occasion to the former presidents who lobbied for the line-item veto.

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