Washington spends far more than its suburbs on an impressive list of public services ranging from transportation to police and welfare.
But whether suburbanities should share more of the burden is an unanswered question in a new report on local spending and taxes.
The report by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) follows an 18-month study that started amid considerable controversy between city leaders who want to impose a commuter tax and suburban leaders who oppose it.
The evidence it presents is ambigous:
With about 24 per cent of the area's population, Washington accounts for 82 per cent of its spending on welfare and social services, 68 per centof all spending on police and fire protection, and 39 per cent of sending on public transit and highways.
The city's tax burden on its own residents, except for the upper-income groups, is lower than that in the Maryland suburbs, though somewhat higher than that in Virginia.
The city's share of expenditure on welfare, public hospitals and other benefit programs is far greater than its percentage of the area's low population, which COG puts at about 49 per cent.
Suburban taxpayers already pay much more in taxes than they get back in services from their own slate governments. Maryland suburbanites get back 69 per cent of what they contributs in state taxes. Norther Virginians get back 75 per cent.
"We tried to do an impartial, middle-of-road-type study." said Edwin Verburg, a planner for COG who directed the project. "We show how an areawide tax could be imposed, but we don't say what should be done."
Discussing a commuter tax, in which the District would tax the earnings within the city of nonresidents who work here, the report says that any such levy is "inherently arbitrary to some degree" because of the "difficulty in unequivocally identifying costs and benefits" for residents and outsiders.
But it said it would be "an effective device for redistribution of incomes" because suburban residents have more higher paying jobs.
There are 51 U.S. cities, the report says which impose a tax on a nonresident's income
Another way to raise money, the report says, would be to impose an areawide tax sales, incomes or property that would go to a regional agency, such as the Metro Transit Authority, which runs the area's buses and subway system.
Privately, officials said such an areawide tax has more chance of being adopted than a D.C. commuter tax, because it would substantially help both the District and other local governments.
The report indicates that Metro has become a major cost for local governments, accounting for about 8 percent of all government expenditures in the area in 1974, the most recent year for which complete data is available.
According to the report, the District paid $388 per capita in 1974 for public transit and highways, compared to $246 per capital in the Virginia suburbs, and $162 per capita in the Maryland suburbs.
For public safety, including police, fire protection and prisons, the District spends $359 per capita, the Virginia suburbs, $64 per capita, and the Maryland suburbs, $51 per capita.
Per capita expenditures for welfare and other social services were: D.C. $221, Virginia suburbs, $21; and Maryland suburbs, $12.
The only category in the report in which the suburbs spent more was parks and recreation, whith the Maryland suburbs spending $42 per capita, Virginia, $26, and the District $24.
The report gives no data on the productivity and effiency services in different jurisdictions. It also excludes education, which takes a larger share of suburban budgets than anything else.