This is both a birth announcement and an advance obituary:
Federal workers who now enjoy low-cost parking, and members of Congress who enjoy no-cost parking would be required to pay commercial rates of $40 to $85 a month under legislation born yesterday in the House. Its demise is imminent.
Uncle Sam controls more than 20 percent of the off-street parking in the District. That amounts to about 16,500 spaces for executive branch employes and VIPs. In addition, the area's biggest employer-Congress-also has thousands of parking spaces for its staff members, and free (naturally) slots for senators and representatives to help supplement their $57,500 salaries.
Free parking is the ultimate perquisite of official Washington. It has been under attack, and invulnerable, since the invention of the motor car.
The man who would upset the parking apple cart is Rep. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). Las Vegas oddsmakers won't even discuss his chances for success.
According to the General Services Administration, the average federal employe downtown pays anywhere from $5 to $15 a month to park. That is not for the space, GSA says, but is only an attendant fee.
Government agencies are required to pay Standard Level User Charges (SLUCC, the equivalent of commercial rates) for spaces. They get the money from Congress. The SLUC rate, at commercial levels, would be anywhere from a low of $30 to a high of $85 a month.
Grassley says the government is encouraging the waste of gasoline, traffic congestion and air pollution with the "lure" of free or cheap parking in a city struggling to finance a billion-dollar Metro system.
GSA officials estimate there are 90,000 off-street parking spaces in commercial areas of Washington and that the government has or controls anywhere from 20 to 30 percent of them. About half the adults employed in Washington work for the federal government.
Federal parking is a sore spot with just about everybody but the lucky individual who gets a sticker and a space. Charges of favoritism and stupidity are frequently made by civil servants when discussing the parking situation.
According to GSA, handicapped workers get first priority for parking. Ninety percent of the remaining parking spaces are allotted, generally on the basis of car pools, GSA says, with about 10 percent going to individual agency VIPs and persons who work odd hours or otherwise assigned by top management.
The parking situation here is so critical that some clerical and secretarial employes higher grades, for the same job, than their counterparts get in suburbia.
Having a parking sticker is so important to some that a few devious types have been known to use all sorts of tricks, including registering dead or retired colleagues to form "car pools."
Grassley obviously means well. But he probably won't do very well. The fatal flaw in his bill is that parking fees would also apply to members of Congress and judges. One can carry this democracy thing too far.
When the perk lobby gets through with Grassley's legislation, it will probably be assigned the same priority as funding for dandelion removal around the Titanic Memorial.