The House Appropriations Committee is putting pressure on the District of Columbia to revoke the $280,000-a-year real estate tax exemption on the headquarters of the National Education Association, as well as similar tax benefits enjoyed by other groups involved in partisan politics.
Citing the city's perilous financial condition, the committee said in an official report that taxes should be levied on properties owned by groups that engage "in union organizing or political activities, including endorsements of political candidates and contributions."
Although the report, which accompanies the city's 1981 budget, mentioned no names, the description clearly would apply to the NEA, a professional organization that evolved into a teacher's union and endorsed Jimmy Carter in both his campaigns as the Democratic nominee for president. The NEA headquarters, with a $15.4 million assessed valuation, is at 16th and M streets NW.
The committee description also could apply, though less clearly, to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, whose political arm recently broke with tradition and endorsed Ronald Reagan's Republican presidential candidacy. The VFW Washington office with an $88,160 assessment and a potential annual tax bill of about $1,400, is at 200 Maryland Ave. NE on Capitol Hill.
The language in the congressional committee's report, adopted Thursday, was proposed by Rep. Eldon Rudd (R-Ariz.), who first questioned the NEA exemption at a public hearing in 1979. An aide said Rudd did not want to single out the NEA by name in the report since there may be other exempt groups that also should be taxed.
The NEA and the VFW are among 38 organizations that were granted tax exemptions on their holdings by Congress before the city won limited home rule in 1975. The properties have a combined assessed value of $137 million, which, if taxed, would yield the city more than $2.5 million a year.
In its report, the committee said none of the organizations granted exemptions by Congress were engaged at the time in either partisan politics or union organizing. In the years since the exemptions were granted, persistent efforts have been made to withdraw the exemptions, efforts that always came up short.
The city has a general law that grants tax exemptions to churches, nonprofit private schools and charitable organizations that provide services to District residents. Such labor organizations as the AFL-CIO pay taxes of their office buildings.
The D.C. City Council has scheduled consideration Oct. 14 of a bill that would wipe out all the old congressional exemptions granted national groups.
That measure, if passed, would force such organizations as the Daughters of the American Revolution, the National Science Foundation, the American Legion, the National Geographic Society and the American Institute of Architects to pay taxes on currently exempt holdings.
Its effects on groups with millions of members nationally would be so far ranging that John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2), chairman of the council's Finance and Revenue Committee, warned his colleagues that Congress would likely veto it.
Rudd's aide said the Arizona congressman probably could not support the council bill.
The NEA said it had no immediate comment, since its officials who deal with tax matters were on vacation. A spokesman said the NEA had expressed willingness in the past to pay taxes if other currently exempt groups also are required to do so.
Tip Marlow, Washington spokesman for the VFW, said the Reagan endorsement was made by the VFW Political Action Committee (PAC), an affiliated but corporately independent body formed by the veterans' group in 1978.
William J. Callaghan, director of D. C. properties for the VFW, said the PAC is a rent-paying tenant in the VFW building and the VFW pays a D. C. tax on that income.