With his proposal for a commuter tax facing unanimous opposition from suburban Washington members of Congress. ReP. Stewart B. McKinney (R-Conn.) is exploring the idea of a regional tax to finance solutions to specific Washington area problems such as transportation and pollution.
McKinney has asked the staff of the House District Committee, of which he is the ranking minority member, to find out how the 47 metropolitan areas in the United States that have WORD ILLEGIBLE form of a commuter or regional tax collect and distribute the proceeds.
Although McKinney insists that the study is not being offered as an alternative to a commuter tax, the news that he was looking at another method of relieving the city's financial problems was greeted with relative enthusiasm, and a bit of sarcasm, from Washington area representatives in the House.
A colleague on the House District Committee, Rep. Newton I. Steers (R-Md.), revealed McKinney's plan for "a regional transit tax" at a breakfast meeting yesterday with other Washington area House members and the League of Women Voters.
"I'm glad to hear that," Rep. Herbert E. Harrie II (D-Va.) said later. "It sounds like he recognizes that his commuter tax proposal doesn't have a chance."
"I'm sure in Montgomery County the opposition to the high-minded Mr. McKinney's latest plan would drop from 99 per cent to 95 per cent." Steers told the league.
"It's a much better approach than an across-the-board commuter tax," said Rep. Joseph E. Fisher (D-Va.)
McKinney's interest in D.C. affairs comes not only from his membership on the District Committee, he said, but from his belief that Washington "is a microcosm of urban problems" that could become a model for other metropolitan areas. He represents a suburban Connecticut area where many residents work in New York City and pay both city and state income taxes.
He said he tells constitents who want to separate the city's problems from their own that "if New York has terminal cancer, we just haven't felt the first pains yet."
McKinney has asked the minority staff to look at cities "such as Indianapolis and Houston," which have a form of metropolitan government, and any other place that "might give us ideas on how to broaden the tax burden" in the Washington area.
Barbara C. Washington, minority counsel to the District Committee, said the response to last summer's water crisis, in which "one area had water and another didn't," demonstrated the need for regional cooperation.
Among the examples being studied, she said, are a 1 per cent sales tax in metropolitan Atlanta that helps finance that area's new rapid transit system, and various regional sales and payroll taxes.
"We want to find out what would be politically palatable here," she said.
Barbara Norris-Chavez, a committee research analysts, has examined regional tax plans in Minneapolis St. Paul, Atlanta and Toronto. She said she has "learned from them, but none could be a model for this area." Of all regional taxing authorities the committee has learned about, she said, none crosses a state line, as a plan in the Washington area would have to do.
Fisher said a regional tax might be worthwhile even if it were limted to only one state, but proposals for separate taxes in the Virginia and Maryland suburbs to underwrite operating losses of the Metro system have not succeeded.
The Virginia legislature last year gave Northern Virginia the authority to impose a tax or gasoline sales, with the proceeds going to Metro, if all the jurisdictions agreed. But the plan was vetoed by Fairfax City. Earlier this week, Maryland Transportation Secretary Hermann Intemann told the Washington Suburban Transit Commission he doubted the Maryland General Assembly would approve a suggested increase in the gasoline tax to support Metro.
McKinney's study is scheduled to be completed next month.