First, City Council Chairman Sterling Tucker promised his lifelong opposition to it. Then Mayor Walter E. Washington threatened to veto it. Finally, Councilman Marion Barry said it "won't see the light of day."
With that, a controversial plan to impose what amounted to a property tax on the city's churches, a potent political power here, became a victim of early jockeying in the race for the Democratic mayoral nomination in 1978.
On Dec. 5, after nearly 18 months of study, the D.C. Tax Revision Commission recommended that the city require its religious institutions - along with certain museums, hospitals and universities that are also tax exempt - to make payments "in lieu of property taxes."
The payments would be equal to 10 per cent of what those institutions would be billed if they were taxed like other properties in the city. The commission estimated that the payments would bring an additional $2.4 million into the city's coffers. About $700,000 of that money would come from churches, whose representatives have been strongly opposed to such a plan.
On Sunday, Tucker spoke at the dedication of a new physical education and recreation facility at Gonzaga High School and took the occasion to assure William Cardinal Baum, the Archbishop of Washington, of his opposition to the tax plan.
"As long as I am in a leadership position in the District of Columbia government," Tucker said, "I will never support the taxation of the city's religious institutions."
Washington, who also took part in Sunday's dedication but did not discuss the tax plan then, did discuss it yesterday. He first told reporters informally of his opposition and later issued a hastily duplicated statement.
"Most of the social benefits of the last 150 years have been based in the church, especially the major social drives in the black community. To tax church related property in not a good means to balance the budget," Washington said.
"In fact, to tie church movements to politics would have a destructive effect," he cautioned, later added, "I strongly urge the Council not to send me this measure."
For several weeks, Barry, before whose finance and revenue committee there is already a long-pending church tax proposal, had been on record in personal opposition to the plan.
Yesterday, Barry went a step further by saying that he would not even hold hearings on the proposed legislation. "I've examined it and looked at it, I don't think a hearing would tell us anything we don't already know," said Barry, who added that several ministers already have spoken to him about the plan.
"No, sir, I'm not holding hearins on that bill," Barry said. "As far as I'm concerned, I'm not going to bring it up. It won't see the light of day."
Although the church tax plan formally was recommended by the tax commission only last week, two pieces of legislation that closely parallel the recommendation have been pending before Barry's committee since early this year.
One, sponsored by David A. Clarke (D-one), would lift the congressionally imposed tax exemptions from about 44 large institutions in the city, including places such as Howard University, the Daughters of the American Revolution national headquarters, the National Geographic Society and Corcoran Gallery of Art. The institutions could reapply to the city for tax exempt status, but some would probably not receive it.
A second measure, proposed by Arrington Dixon (D-four), would authorize the city to establish a rate at which the tax exempt properties could be billed an in-lieu fee to compensate they city for the cost of providing such services as police and fire protection.
Barry said yesterday that hearings would be held on neither measure. "I think it's a matter of priorities," he said. "The number one priority ought to be the non-residents who also use our services and pollute our air." Barry said the second priority was getting more money from the U.S. government, which occupies more than 40 per cent of the city's taxable land, and some city leaders feel pays only half of what it should to make up for the loss of taxes from this land.
"Until these two things happen, it doesn't come close to anything logical or right to ask for a 'fair share' from those who are often a service to the community," Barry said.