Saturday, November 05, 2005

DC Loses Lawsuit Against U.S. Constitution

From The Washington Times:

A federal appeals court yesterday ruled that Congress has the authority to prevent the D.C. government from taxing commuters.

In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District said the Constitution clearly grants Congress "exclusive authority" to govern the District, tossing out a lawsuit brought by more than 30 plaintiffs -- including Mayor Anthony A. Williams -- who sought to impose a commuter tax.

"The policy choices are Congress' to make," the court said. The decision was written by Judge John G. Roberts, now the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. He was a member of the appellate court when the lawsuit was argued there in April.

For the record, the exclusive authority provision is from Article I, Section 8:
The Congress shall have Power... To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District... as may... become the Seat of the Government of the United States...
What part of "in all Cases whatsoever" don't they understand?

Reaction to yesterday's ruling, which upheld a U.S. District Court decision last year, was mixed across the region.

U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, a Virginia Republican who has supported a plan that would give the District a vote in the House, hailed the decision and said it came as no surprise to him. He said the city needs to develop its tax base and not "soak commuters."

D.C.'s existing taxes are one of the major reasons I won't be moving there any time soon. The District should work with Congress to solve its internal problems, not steal $1.4 billion in tax revenue from neighboring states.

D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty, a Ward 4 Democrat who is running for mayor next year, said he will introduce a bill to call for a referendum that would abolish the D.C. Home Rule Charter's ban on a commuter tax, then impose such a tax.

"The court's decision is outrageous," Mr. Fenty said. "It flies in the face of why this country was founded.

"It is a matter of fundamental fairness that we move to release the shackles of this congressionally imposed ban on taxing income earned in the District," he said.

And he's not even afraid of that pesky Constitution.
Mr. Williams, a Democrat, also voiced his displeasure with the court ruling, noting that cities such as New York and Philadelphia have levied taxes on commuters.
Although commuter taxes are already questionable policy (perhaps they could be described as imperialist taxation) there's one notable difference here: the Constitution does not grant Congress exclusive authority over New York or Philadelphia.

More on imperialist taxation:

"The people of the District bear the burden of this unfair limitation," he said. "As we've argued countless times, a commuter tax would not have any impact on Maryland and Virginia residents, who would be able to deduct the taxes they pay to D.C. from their state taxes."

But Maryland Deputy Attorney General Michael Berman disagreed.

"Those other states would be forced to cut services or tax citizens who do not commute into the District to make up the shortfall," said Mr. Berman, who argued the case on behalf of the state last April.

It is unfortunate that Virginia and Maryland had to spend any of their resources fighting this absurd lawsuit.

[Cross-Posted at Just Barely Inside the Beltway]

Update, Nov. 17th: DC Commuter Tax Update.

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