No Taxation Without Representation! For Real?

"Look, Krepp: You know, and I know, that Statehood will never happen. And you know full well that this talk of going 'back' to Maryland is a smokescreen to avoid dealing with the unpleasant truth that so many Americans live without basic representation. No way it’s happening either. So why not embrace the other half of 'taxation without representation'? Do you LIKE paying taxes?"

It can be hard to say no to this. It is extremely offensive to me that my nation requires me to pay Federal income taxes while at the same time denying me a right to be represented in the body that determines how that money is spent. It was offensive to me they happily accepted my service in the Navy while denying me full participation in our democracy. It’s offensive to me that Representatives who have never gone past the Starbucks at 3rd and Pennsylvania SE feel qualified to overturn my laws.

With Statehood such a distant goal, why NOT simply pass legislation that relieves District of Columbia residents of the responsibilities of paying taxes? This isn’t without precedent. Residents of Puerto Rico are largely exempt from federal income taxes. There’s no Constitutional issue at play here; Congress has that fancy “exclusive jurisdiction” they can use. And aren’t Republicans almost always anti-tax? If they went along, Congress could easily exempt us. Is this something we should push for? I mean, I’m not usually one to turn down more money in my pocket.

But, on balance, I’d say no, for two very important reasons. The first is practical. Removing ourselves from paying taxes would quickly turn us into a high priced enclave, a Monaco on the Potomac, as conservative commentator David Frum called it in The Weekly Standard back in 1996. With no Federal income tax, we’d have people flocking here to establish residency, adding to the already expensive real estate market.

We are a city struggling with managing our success. That is, all things considered, an enviable position to have compared to, say, Detroit or even Washington, DC of the mid-90s. But that doesn't mean we don't have real challenges to cope with and problems to consider. How we do this will define what kind of city we are in ten, twenty, and even fifty years from now. 

I firmly believe that our success is driven by, and in turn drives, improving schools, falling crime, a new confidence in the District, national trends on the resurgence of cities, and a host of other items, big and small. We are creating real value in Washington, a place people are increasingly choosing to live in as an affirmation.

However, this comes at a cost. Many who have lived here for decades, largely but by no means exclusively African-American, aren't seeing a rising tide lift all boats. We have to do more on affordable housing, on the stark divide in educational achievement, and on economic opportunity, to help correct that, but the regrettable truth is that the ebb and flow of city development will leave some people worse off.

For this reason, I'm not eager to accelerate that growth based on a tax scheme bubble. Real growth, sustainable growth, comes not by becoming a tax haven for wealth created elsewhere but from increasing the value of what we produce. If Washington, DC really wanted to stimulate growth, I'd be far more interested in small business regulatory reform, reducing the compliance costs of business taxes, and increasing transparency of government. These are issues I've faced constantly as a sole proprietor and hinder growth far more my federal tax burden. These would be reforms that help both existing and entrepreneurial new residents. I'd much rather chase them to be my new neighbors than the Warren Buffets and Donald Trumps of the world.

But beyond the practicalities of it, it’s just wrong. Democracy, I firmly believe, is something that grows from the ground up, not administered from on high. Part of that is my willing contribution to the general good in the form of taxes. It’s easy to be disenchanted with government, especially at the federal level, these days. I know I am.

But the answer isn’t less participation, it’s more. I’m not begging for the scraps of democracy, I’m demanding FULL participation in the democracy we already have. “Taxes,” as Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Home, Jr., famously said, “are the price we pay for a civilized society. If we believe that “government” is something done to us, then yes, I’m happy not paying taxes. But if we believe, as I do, that “government” is something we take ownership of, that we claim responsibility for, then how in good conscience can we shirk our responsibility to support it?

So, with far more reluctance that eschewing being a Marylander, I have to say I’m not a supporter of the idea of removing our tax burden.

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