D.C. Council Chairman David A. Clarke (D) yesterday accused mayoral rival John Ray of favoring the taxing of commercial and residential property at the same rate -- a proposal that he said would nearly double the rates paid by homeowners.
Ray, a Democrat, denied Clarke's assertion and said Clarke was distorting his position on taxes. "Dave Clarke is the master of misinformation," said Ray, an at-large D.C. Council member.
The exchange was precipitated by Ray's comments, which appeared to support the principle of establishing a single class of real estate for taxation purposes, at recent candidate forums.
Until 1975, all property in the District was taxed at the same rate, but legislation supported by Clarke and other council members created different classes of property, taxed at different rates.
Currently, there are five classes of real estate, each taxed at different rates. The classes are homeowner-occupied, renter-occupied, hotels, commercial property and vacant land. The current tax rate on homeowners is 96 cents per $100 of assessed value, and the tax on commercial property is $2.15 per $100.
If real estate were to produce the same amount of revenue for the city as it is producing now -- but at a single rate -- Clarke said that rate would have to be $1.73 per $100 of assessed value. That would represent an 80 percent increase in taxes for homeowners and a 19 percent decrease for commercial property owners.
Clarke said in a statement released by his campaign that Ray's policy "would constitute a wholesale retreat of years of progressive change in the tax structure."
"It is another example of where he is willing to sacrifice the interests of the common man for the special interests," he said.
As an example, Clarke cited the council's 1985 debate over the proposal to create a different hotel tax, in which Ray said it had been a "mistake" for the council to create a special rate for homeowners.
Ray said yesterday that as a matter of principle, it would be better to have a single real estate tax rate in the city. That way, he said, people who own more expensive property would pay more than those who have less expensive properties.
But he said that to enact that policy today would impose too great a burden on homeowners.
"In Washington, D.C., we have to keep a separate rate for homeowners. Otherwise, we would have to raise the rate," he said. "We've had separate rates for so long that it would be impossible to go back to one rate."
Ray said he continues to believe that hotels should not receive a special tax rate. "There's no evidence the hotel industry is losing money."