Two members of a congressional panel urged the District of Columbia yesterday to curtail or revoke millions of dollars in real estate tax exemptions granted over many years by Congress to properties in the city owned by national organizations.
The exemptions range from $33 million in property owned by the National Geographic Society to $29,100 owned by the Luther Statue Association, which in 1885 was excused from taxes on a tiny plot on Thomas Circle NW.
At a hearing by the House D.C. Appropriations subcmmittee on the proposed city budget for the 1980 fiscal year, Rep. Eldon Rudd (R-Ariz.) voiced special distress at the exemption on $12.9 million worth of property at 16th and M streets NW owned by the National Education Association.
Congress granted the NEZ an exemption in 1906, when its District holdings were small. Rudd said it wrote into the law a provision that the exemption would cease if the property were not "applied to the educaional purposes" of the NEA.
In the intervening years, Rudd said, NEA has become chiefly a labor union and lobbying organization and no longer deserves to escape the $236,253 it would pay in taxes on its land and headquarters building.
Rudd and Rep. Charles Wilson (D-Tex.), the subcommittee chairman, asked the District's tax chief, Kenneth Back, to study whether the NEA exemption should be continued. They said they would ask for similar checks on other groups.
The congressional concern was voiced at a time when the D.C. City Council's Finance and Revenue Committee is preparing for its own hearing April 5 into a bill that would revoke all 41 special exemptions granted by Congress. The affected properties are valued at $305 million. The city power to override such past congressional actions was granted by the home rule charter in 1975.
Back said 10 of the properties valued at nearly $168 million could clearly qualify for exemptions under other D.C. laws. These include the larges congressionally exempted holding in the city, the Howard University campus, valued at $136 million.
In general, D.C. law permits exemptions for property owned by charitable or religious organizations that serve District citizens, but not national headquarters.
Among congressionally granted exemptions are holdings of such national groups as the Daughters of the American Revolution, the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Was and B'nai B'rith, a Jewish service organization.
Wilson and Rudd said they saw no reason to forgive taxes on such properties as the National Geographic, the Brookings Institution, the American Pharmaceutical Association and the American Forestry Association. Wilson noted that he is a member of the forestry organization.