D.C. Wants Feds to Pay for Roads and More

D.C.’s pseudo-congressman Eleanor Holmes Norton wants the federal taxpayer to pay for roads and other capital improvements to make up for the city’s inability to collect taxes.

D.C. seeks feds’ help to offset costs (Washington Examiner)

It might be a drop in the federal government’s giant bucket, but nearly $1 billion for the District would be a welcome windfall. Congresswoman[*] Eleanor Holmes Norton, with bipartisan support from the entire regional delegation, on Tuesday introduced the “Fair Federal Compensation Act of 2005.” It would provide at least $800 million a year to the District for capital improvements and to pay down debt, with the payment adjusted annually to keep up with inflation.
“We’re talking about $800 million,” Norton said during a press conference in front of Lincoln Theatre. “This doesn’t even register on the federal cash register.”

The congresswoman[*] wants to create a new federal payment to assist the city. The legislation is meant to offset the so-called “structural imbalance” that the Government Accountability Office found to be between $470 million and $1.1 billion a year, according to its May 2003 report. The imbalance – the difference between the city’s costs and its ability to raise revenue – is primarily the result of the city’s inability to tax commuters or collect property taxes on federal property, District officials argue. Sixty percent of the city’s buildings are owned by the federal government or nonprofits which pay no taxes. Ten of the largest nongovernmental agencies – including Fannie Mae, the mortgage guarantor – pay no franchise tax and only one pays property taxes.


Under Norton’s bill, the $800 million could only be used to build schools, repair roads and make other capital improvements the city must regularly defer, the congresswoman said. The money also could be used to reduce the city’s debt.

This would seem to be an argument for reverting back to the days before home rule for the District. The vast majority of its revenue-producing property is federal land. Indeed, almost no one would live there were in not the nation’s capital.

*Norton is not a “congresswoman.” The District of Columbia is not a state and is therefore prohibited by Article I of the U.S. Constitution from having representation in the House and Senate.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. John Thacker says:

    He who pays the piper calls the tune. And boy has the history of highway money shown that to be true. If they get this, they will inevitably cede home rule, perhaps retaining it in name and form only.

  2. M. Murcek says:

    Why doesn’t the US government just do the real-estate equivalent of a stock buy-back? Purchase all the private housing in the district, demolish it, and create more parkland and space for monuments. It could only be a help in keeping homeland security costs for the district down by eliminating potential locations for terrorist rat-nests. Virginia and Maryland should be happy to acquire new tax-paying residents.

  3. John Burgess says:

    Hmmm… you overstate the issue a tad. My wife’s family has lived in DC since before it was DC and before there was a federal gov’t. Or a country, for that matter.

    Rather than seeking statehood, I think the residents of DC should focus on the other side of “no taxation without representation”. Since they have no representation (other than a “shadow” congresswoman and senator), how about getting out from under federal taxes?

    Having to pay no federal taxes would solve DC’s problems overnight, particularly if the tax-free status extended to corporations. The DC gov’t could even increase its own, already high, local tax rates.

  4. McGehee says:

    John B., I like the way you think. It might even turn D.C. into a swing “state” instead of 91% blue in presidential elections.

  5. Thief says:

    I favor retrocession. DC used to be a part of Maryland, just give it back to them. Let the official status of DC say that Maryland “administers the nation’s capital on behalf of the United States.” Let the residents of DC vote for MD Legislators, Governors, Representatives and Senators, and let them be subject to MD taxes and laws. Of course, the Federal Gov’t would still have to pony up some cash for MD in lieu of property taxes, but overall a) it could work, b) this would solve two problems at once: DC would get representation, and adding in another layer of oversight from Annapolis might force the idiot bureaucrats who run this city to actually solve some problems.

    The only reason that DC is not a state was because back before the Civil War, making DC was a compromise between putting the Nation’s Capitol in a “slave” state vs. a “free” state. Is this really a problem today?

    And if you still don’t believe me, it’s been done before (they gave Virginia’s portion of DC back in the the 1830’s; that part is now Arlington County and Alexandria.)

  6. McGehee says:

    The only reason that DC is not a state…

    …is because the Constitution clearly says that the national capital shall not be a state. Before the Civil War they were fighting about whether territories that were not constitutionally prohibited from becoming states should be slave or free.

    Somehow I don’t think the idea of amending the Constitution to make D.C. a state was ever even remotely serious as a proposition back then, let alone whether it would be slave or free. As it was, Congress could simply decide by legislation whether slavery was permitted in the capital.

  7. Scott Dillard says:

    You could make the District consist only of federal sites. Residential areas that are not federal could belong to Maryland. I’m thinking of the Vatican model here. St Peter’s and a few other buildings in Rome are outside Italian jurisdiction. It could work in DC.

  8. davod says:

    I live in the district. They want more money. Why? they have just declared a $433 milion surplus. That’s half of what they want for roads.

    Over the past few years the FederalGovernment has taken over payment for a lot of DC expenditures. The prison system is one that comes to mind.

    The level of incompetance (or corruption) in the District is mind boggling. I would not trust them with another dime.

  9. Gina says:

    The reason DC has no vote in Congress is because Pennsylvania did not pay some of its soldiers that fought in the Revolution and the Founding Fathers were all too familiar with violence. While the Founding Fathers were working on the Constitution in Independence Hall, the Pennsylvania State House, fed-up soldiers rioted outside the building, demanding their money. The rioting caused the Founding Fathers to forthwith write into the Constitution the “District Clause” Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17 which says that Congress would have complete control over its immediate environs, no matter where it landed. Murcek emphasized the safety point above.

  10. John Thacker says:

    Speaking of how taking the king’s shilling makes you the king’s man, a Republican legislator in Vermont would like to lower the drinking age there to 18, and has support, but won’t get it passed because it would cause a loss of federal highway money.