The Corner

No Taxation without Representation? Okay

I know there are probably some unintended consequences lurking around the corner here, but I can’t help it — Robert Book’s take on the issue of D.C. representation in Congress is simply delightful.

Book, a data analyst and senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, argues that the proper answer to D.C.’s longstanding complaint about federal taxation without representation is not to give Eleanor Holmes Norton an extraconstitutional voting privilege in the House but instead to exempt D.C. residents from federal income taxation. It’s not unprecedented. Residents of Puerto Rico and Guam are U.S. citizens who don’t vote in federal elections and don’t pay federal income taxes. And the idea might have salutary effects on one of America’s most intractable pockets of poverty:

D.C., especially the portion east of the Anacostia River and devoid of major federal installations, is economically moribund, with all the economic blight common to centers of urban poverty. As in other urban areas, people who work in “the District” often live in the suburbs, seeking both a higher quality of life and lower local taxes.

Just as the incentives and tax breaks of “Operation Bootstrap” in 1947 revitalized and diversified the economy of Puerto Rico, an income tax exemption for people residing in D.C. would attract prosperous new residents to the district — residents who would have the incentives and wherewithal to pressure the bungling local government to clean up its act. They would also bring financial resources; in the absence of federal taxes the District government could “split the difference” with its residents, charging higher taxes than any state but still leaving residents with more money in their pockets than they would have living anywhere else in the U.S.

Book says that the fiscal impact to the federal treasury would be small (how quaint it feels to be worried about this right now). I guess it would give D.C. residents an incentive to vote for big-spending, big-taxing presidents — all four of them who don’t already vote that way.


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