Housing Complex

Could Sekou Biddle Have Solved the Commuter Problem?

Creative taxation. (Darrow Montgomery)

You hear it all the time: One of the District's biggest handicaps is the fact that 70 percent of jobs are held by people who take their paychecks home to Maryland or Virginia or wherever else they live, beyond D.C.'s fiscal reach. We'd like to tax that income at its source, but any actual attempt to do so would never fly.

So today, interim Councilmember Sekou Biddle–in a substantive attempt to keep his job, while his campaign shop goes after competitors–introduced legislation to solve a small chunk of that problem. The D.C. government might not be able to tax other peoples' employees, but it can make "voluntary" contributions a condition of hiring for its own workforce, which composes 37,600 out of the District's 726,000 jobs. The Condition of Employment Act of 2011 would require new hires who live outside the District to agree to pay back four percent of their salaries. There's no estimate yet of how much cash this would net the District back from its own employees (and the hiring freeze makes its near-term revenue-generating potential pretty low).

But wait–how exactly is that different from a tax, which would be prohibited by the Home Rule Act? Biddle's office says the distinction comes in because employees could "theoretically...negotiate away this requirement during the pre-hiring period." Or, the agency could agree to just pay the person a higher salary to offset the remittance, which means there's no net gain to the District at all.

There is precedent for such a tax-in-name-only: New York City's Section 1127 condition of employment payment, which has a more complicated formula but amounts to something similar, was instated in the 1970s and has so far held up against legal challenges. D.C., of course, has to deal with Congress, which might still take issue with this one. So never fear, Mitchellville-living city employees–Biddle's creative commuter tax may not get anywhere anyway.

  • Somebody

    It's worth a try. At least someone is thinking and working for the residents of the city.

  • GoodGrief

    Love it!

  • Rick Mangus

    What a bunch of crap!

  • Paul

    Don't really like this. It's double taxation.

  • John

    Why not just impose a residency requirement? Sheesh. Instead we have one that will double tax employees and get shot down by Congress in a heartbeat. More useless symbolism.

  • Keep It Real

    Isn't D.C.'s tax rate much higher than our neighbors? If so, then wouldnt the double tax would bring them to D.C.'s level?

  • overqast

    i live in DC and i think its about time that the government stopped treating us like second class citizens and giving our jobs to people who don't live in DC the Tax rate in DC is higher than in Maryland and this levels out the playing field

  • Phillip

    Why doesn't he focus on getting our neighbors (VA & MD) to pay their fair share for Metro AND sign a funding commitment for the next 20 years. That would a solution to a problem not a gimmick.

  • Emotions

    I think it's a creative and, dare I say, smart idea to address the fact that our workers all live in DC. And should the threat of congressional challenge deter us from good ideas. Innovative solution...

  • Emotions

    Oops! All do not live in DC I meant.

  • WhoddaThunk

    This is a great idea and a good start to addressing the very real problem of not getting tax money from those working in DC but living in VA or MD. Great solution!

  • LOL

    It's worth a shot. Especially if the person can negotiate out of it. The only obstacle that it doesn't serve is that it only impacts new hires. Not the current ones. Maybe the next cost of living increase should only apply to DC residents. Those combined could create some tangible reasons to live in DC [or at least not apply for a gig in DC if you are not ready to accept those terms of employment]

  • Drez

    before we break out the champagne, which other CMs will sign on, and who iwill defend against the inevitable challenges?

  • Hillman

    We all know that the great Marion Barry hiring program of the past 40 years resulted in the city worker middle class all moving to Maryland.

    It's nice to see someone actually admit that.

    A city residency requirement is a good thing, but I'm not sure it's legal. I think it's been struck down in other localities, at least for rank and file employees. I could be wrong about that.

  • oboe

    The problem with "giving these jobs to DC residents" is that, basically, DC residents who would be filling entry- to mid-level jobs are unemployable. Once DC residents get a middle-class job, they move to the suburbs. That's why DC's demographics break down along class lines so starkly: you're either poor, a long-term resident, or fairly wealthy.

    Don't really like this. It's double taxation.

    So what?

  • oboe

    You get into the same problem with the "First Source" program. Employers don't skip over DC residents because they've got something against DC. They skip them in favor of suburban residents because DC's poor and lower-class are essentially unemployable.

  • Jim A

    DC loses a lot of money to the suburbs. It's only fair to charge DC workers who live outside DC a REASONABLE surcharge.

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