Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, September 16, 2011

(Not) A call for commuter income taxes or transportation payroll taxes

DC is prevented by Congress from assessing income taxes on employee income earned within DC. Since 70% of the jobs in the city are held by non-residents, and because about 40% of the city's land is exempt from property taxes, there is a great burden on the city to fund transportation infrastructure for people not paying into maintenance of the system.

I had to laugh when I read this letter to the editor by a Montgomery County resident in today's Post because she is demanding DC focus its budget dollars on the city's roads she uses to get her to and from her job:

A shocking ride on Connecticut Ave.

Perhaps someone can direct me to the correct D.C. department. I would like to send the city a bill for new shocks on my car. How long will it take the District to repair the unbelievably bad surface along Connecticut Avenue? The asphalt cutouts made in Cleveland Park months ago are still there. And Woodley Park? I don’t need a roller-coaster ride on my commutes.

Cathy Ball, Kensington

She could always take the train or a different route, or send in a donation check to DC to pay for "her road."

Anyway, in a paper I wrote a few years ago, I suggested that DC create and impose a transportation tax on payroll-based income, like how it is done in some counties in Oregon. To help fund New York City regional transit, a similar taxing procedure was created to support the MTA there.

Like Seattle's Bridging the Gap program, a transportation payroll tax could fund transit expansion like the separated blue line, improvements to current transit services, as well as road and streetscape improvements.

The problem with such a tax in DC is exemptions to it generally, and exemptions for federal government workers and foreign government workers specifically. In DC, that would wreck the ability of such a tax to generate substantive revenue. Would World Bank employees have to pay? A worker at an embassy? Etc.

But the likelihood of Congress signing off on such a tax, which we could be sure our "friends" at the Tea Party and the American Automobile Association would vociferously oppose as well, is minimal.

Still, by not putting the idea out there at all, we can be assured it will never happen.

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