Town Talker: The District's next big tax debate
Mayor Muriel Bowser has named her appointees to a once-in-a-decade commission reviewing the tax code, setting up the next great debate over tax rates at a time when the city is flush with cash.
Why it matters: The sticking points this year will likely involve whether the District’s richest residents should pay more and if business tax breaks are necessary for a pandemic recovery.
- The D.C. Tax Revision Commission has convened three times in the past, and it prepares a report for city leaders with lengthy recommendations.
- Historically, progressives have slammed the panel as reluctant to raising taxes.
Driving the news: Council chair Phil Mendelson says he was blindsided by the mayor's picks on Monday, after he reached out over a month ago.
- "I was completely taken off guard, and actually a bit angry, because once again, there was an opportunity to collaborate, and the mayor refused," says Mendelson, who gets to pick five other appointees.
Details: The mayor appointed:
- Former Mayor Anthony Williams, who chaired the previous commission and now runs the Federal City Council, a top business group.
- David Catania, a former fiscally conservative council member who in 2018 co-founded a lobbying shop.
- Carolyn Rudd, chair of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce board.
- Jodie McLean, CEO of EDENS, the developer of Union Market.
- James Hudson, who served on the 1998 tax commission.
The big picture: Some on the left are already venting frustration over the outsized influence of the business lobby on the panel.
What they’re saying: “I have great respect for each of these appointees as individuals, but this is like putting together a commission on energy in the 21st century and appointing only members from the oil & gas industries,” tweeted independent council member Elissa Silverman.
Between the lines: Some critics question if three of the mayor’s five appointees qualify as tax experts, as required by statute.
- Williams, Catania, and Hudson were nominated as tax experts, said mayoral spokesperson LaToya Foster. McLean represents the business sector and Rudd is a community representative, in line with the commission's requirements, Foster said.
For progressives, Catania is already a target of criticism, given his conservative fiscal stances as a 17-year lawmaker.
- Ed Lazere, the former head of the left-leaning D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute who served on the tax commission in 2013, says Catania ushered through a tax break for tech companies in 2001 that was “a complete waste of money.”
- The D.C. Council cut the subsidy in 2019, a year after D.C.'s independent chief financial officer found the tax break was costing the city $40 million a year in uncollected revenue.
- Catania did not return an email seeking comment.
What’s next: Mendelson says he wants the commission to be "a little more creative" finding additional revenues for the city.
- The last commission was "a little too timid," he says. "We're much more sensitive today than we were ten years ago to issues of equity."
💬 Town Talker is a weekly column on local politics. If you can make descriptions of tax policy sing, drop me a line: [email protected]
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