The Washington Post

Don’t tax commercial property for arts or pooled rides, mayor tells council

- BY FENIT NIRAPPIL fenit.nirappil@washpost.com

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) is asking legislator­s to reverse tax increases and some spending cuts in next year’s $14.5 billion budget, which is scheduled for a final vote next week.

In a letter to council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), Bowser objected to how legislator­s restructur­ed her tax proposal to fund the District’s $178.5 million share of a regional agreement to improve Metro.

When the council preliminar­ily approved the budget last week, it increased the tax on ride-hailing trips on Uber, Lyft and Via to 6 percent from 1 percent and rejected Bowser’s plan to raise taxes on restaurant meals and hotel stays.

That, Bowser wrote Monday, “effectivel­y subsidiz[es] visitors to the District, tourists, and residents with higher levels of disposable income.”

The mayor joined ride-hailing companies and some advocates for low-income people in asking to exempt pooled rides, including Uber pool and Lyft line, from a tax increase to keep prices down.

Bowser also objected to the council doubling her proposed tax increase on commercial properties assessed at more than $5 million, which she said affects more than 1,000 properties.

City officials justified raising commercial property taxes for Metro under the assumption that proximity to an effective public transporta­tion system boosts property values. But the council proposal also earmarks a portion of the tax increase to fund an arts commission.

“Raising property taxes for purposes other than Metro is something I cannot support, and I do not believe these changes meet the threshold for significan­t funding needs that would require taxes to be raised,” Bowser wrote.

In an interview Thursday, Mendelson said he does not plan to change the tax proposals in the budget and that budget changes would be “tweaks.” He added that the mayor’s aides did not focus on taxes when they met with him to discuss budget concerns, even though it led Bowser’s letter.

“I think the executive is trying to score some political points with their letter,” Mendelson said.

The mayor also raised several other concerns, including a pilot program for an independen­t education watchdog in the wake of multiple public schools scandals, the redirectio­n of money for lowincome residents from temporary rental vouchers to permanent housing, and a switch in the entity that provides publicly funded legal services for immigrants.

Bowser last year announced a $500,000 legal defense fund for undocument­ed immigrants as President Trump ramped up deportatio­n efforts. Her proposed budget for next year would expand the funding by $400,000.

Mendelson intends to redirect that increase from the Mayor’s Office on Latino Affairs to the D.C. Bar Foundation, noting that the organizati­on handles other pro-bono legal services with city funds. Bowser and her allies are resisting such a move.

“We heard from the public and from organizati­ons that took advantage of funding to help people who need it that it’s working well the way we have it,” said D.C. Council member Brandon T. Todd (D-Ward 4). “I don’t think we should fix what isn’t broken.”

The budget is scheduled for a final vote May 29.

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