Shouldnt Attack Neighbors Liberty With Commuter Tax
taxation seriously. From the earliest days of our constitutional
government, our leaders understood that taxes were an attack on
freedom and liberty. In 1819, Chief Justice John Marshall famously
declared that the "power to tax involves, necessarily, a power
to destroy." Until the 16th Amendment was approved
in 1913, the federal government was barred from levying an income
tax, and questions about tax policy continue to dominate the public
Today, the District
of Columbia seeks to interject its authority into the tax policy
of its neighbors and levy an income tax on the citizens of Virginia
and Maryland who happen to work each day in the District.
just one problem: the District of Columbias government doesnt
have the authority to attack the liberty of people who are not citizens
of the District through an income tax. In fact, in and of itself,
the D.C. government has no authority to do anything. It has only
what authority Congress grants it. And Congress has specifically
barred the District from taxing its neighbors.
So why are we
talking about this? This week, a federal judge heard initial arguments
in the Districts suit seeking to declare the law barring a
D.C. commuter tax unconstitutional. The District argues that Congress
is limiting the rights of D.C. residents by barring a commuter tax.
The District also contends that its citizens rights were violated
because the District has no vote in Congress, and thus, no way to
make the citizens voice heard on the issue.
while creative, are also malarkey.
In their responses,
the federal government and Attorneys General from Maryland and Virginia
hit on a number of key points. For example, they point out that
the District is not a state, and doesnt have the same rights
as states. They also argued that commuters already pay sufficient
taxes to the District through sales, meals, and other levies, to
cover the services that they utilize during their days at work,
and they shouldnt have to pay for services that they wont
ever be able use as non-residents.
recall that the District receives countless millions of dollars
a year from taxpayers across the nation thanks to Congresss
generosity and a recognition that the nation should contribute
to maintaining the federal city.
problem remains the District governments utter inability to
manage itself. The District has some of the most liberal social
programs in the nation; it spends more per child on public education
than most cities its size and the most affluent jurisdictions in
the country. Yet its public schools continue to rank as some of
the worst in the nation thanks to the waste, abuse, fraud, and outright
theft that is all too common in D.C.s government.
history, when governments have sought to curtail the rights of citizens,
courts have held them to a very high standard, forcing the government
to demonstrate a "compelling interest" in order to justify
its action. In the case of the D.C. commuter tax, the District seeks
to limit the rights of non-residents through taxation under authority
it doesnt have to achieve ends that it ought to be able to
accomplish through other means. If there was ever a time to hold
a government to a high standard, this is it.
So where is
the compelling interest? That the citizens of the District need
more money for government services? This year, despite its mismanagement,
the district ran a budget surplus. Does D.C. contend that in order
to make all rights equal, the liberty of Virginians and Marylanders
should be limited? Thats absurd.
If the District
wants the same rights as states, it should continue its campaign
to persuade Congress to make it the 51st star on our
flag. Until then, it should keep its fingers out of the pockets
of its neighbors.
February 19, 2004]
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