The D.C. City Council in a sharp rebuff to Mayor Marion Barry, voted last night to let stand the city's new 2-cent-a-gallon incease in the tax on gasoline.
The tax, which actually went into effect Monday, raised the District's gasoline tax from 11 cents a gallon to 13 cents. But most Washington service station dealers delayed rolling up the price on the pumps, waiting to see whether the council would support Barry's wish to hold the increase to 1 cent a gallon.
Barry had contended that the 2-cent increase would send motorists to stations in surburban Maryland, where the tax is only 9 cents a gallon.
But the council, led by member John Wilson (D-Ward 2), who chairs the Finance and Revenue Committee, rejected that argument. By a 10-to-3 vote, the council turned aside the mayor's proposal, which was introduced by council member Jerry A. Moore Jr. (R-At Large). Only Moore, John Ray (D-At Large) and Nadine Winter (D-Ward 6), the chairman pro tempora, voted for the lower tax.
Wilson, the most vocal opponent of a reduction, said that "nobody wants to put anybody out of business." But at the same time, he used that the predictions of serious consequences by the service station dealers were exaggerated. Even with the increase, he said, the city's tax will be less than the gas tax in Virginia, which is is 11 cents a gallon plus 2 percent of the sale price.
Council member Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large) described as an "an intriguing theory of taxation" the practice of one jurisdiction to set taxes based on the rates of its neighoring jurisdictions.
A part of Moore's proposal, also supported by Barry, would have specified that the city's gasoline tax should never exceed the tax in suburban jurisdictions by more than 3 cents. The current law allows that differential to be 5 cents a gallon.
Immediately after the vote, Vic Rasheed, director of the Greater Washington-Maryland Service Station Association, said the council had rejected a compromise that would have been acceptable to both the mayor and the city's gasoline dealers. Rasheed said that the dealers were prepared to accept the 1 cent a gallon increase by taking it out of their own profit margin had the compromise been approved by the council.
"I think the council acted irresponsibly," Rasheed said. "The dealers were ready to compromise. I think that Mr. Wilson has done the city a disservice. I think there was more politics that logic being used tonight."
The 2-cent increase in the gas tax was proposed and passed by the council last year when it repealed the short-lived and controversial 6 percent tax on gasoline. When that tax was enacted, as part of a package of new and increased taxes, the service station owners echoed similar complaints that their customers would flock across the border into Maryland where gasoline would be cheaper.
At last night's meeting, Wilson said that the District never lost many gasoline customers to Maryland because of that ill-fated 6 percent tax, which is why he did not accept the dealer's most recent appeals.
Moore said that a lower tax was justified because "people are buying less gasoline" because they are driving smaller cars and using mass transportation with greater frequency. "What we are witnessing today is an unfair burden on the backs of the retail dealers in the District of Columbia."
In other action, the council also disapproved the mayor's request to reduce spending by the city's fire department by $940,000. That spending reduction would have resulted in the closing of two Northwest Washington fire stations, which is why the council members said they rejected the request. f