Photo by Salem (MA) Public Library on Flickr.

GGW last week covered recent findings that taxes paid by DC residents and car-free Virginia residents generally are the lowest in the region, based on new research from the DC Fiscal Policy Institute.

We at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute appreciate the coverage of our work and the many comments the story received. We would like to respond to some of the comments, including those raising questions about the specifics of our research and those raising doubts about a “pro-tax” organization concluding that DC taxes are lowest in the region.

Some of you thought we should include higher-income renters. That seems reasonable, even though a large majority of DC households with incomes above $100,000 own their homes.

For a single renter earning $100,000, taxes are $5,700 in DC, $5,400 in the Virginia suburbs, and $6,100 in the Maryland suburbs. (These are figures from our report excluding property taxes.) DC is not the lowest, but the differences are small enough that taxes are unlikely to be a deciding factor on where to live — for most people.

Others pointed out our results looked wrong in some places — such as taxes paid by renters earning $50,000. You were right! We reviewed our work and realized that our calculations assumed renters claimed itemized deductions on their federal return, when that wasn’t our intent because most renters don’t.

Taking that out, the revised taxes owed for a single renter at $50,000 range from $2,600 in DC to $2,900 in Fairfax and $3,500 in the Maryland suburbs. Note that DC taxes are still lowest.

Some were skeptical of the whole effort because they see the DC Fiscal Policy Institute as a relentless pursuer of higher taxes, and thus a biased source. Along those lines, some of you questioned the home values used in our property tax calculations and the car values used to estimate Virginia car taxes. We have a few responses:

First, all research should be looked at skeptically, including DCFPI’s. We included a detailed methods section so that everyone could see what we did, question it if they want, and do their own alternate research.

We welcome having others try to answer this question using their own preferred methods — which of course we would then look at with a skeptical eye to see if the methods are flawed or biased. The fact that research from the CFO confirms our findings of low DC taxes makes it hard to imagine other research will lead to wildly different results.

As for our assumptions, we tried to be as reasonable as possible. The methods section of the DCFPI analysis explains that we used Census Bureau data to calculate average home values for residents in each jurisdiction at different income levels, and we used car values used in a similar analysis conducted by the DC Chief Financial Officer.

Finally, DCFPI actually hasn’t pursued higher taxes much before the current recession. DCFPI advocated for tax increases in the current recession and the last one, because both downturns depressed revenues and forced large cuts in services that affected all DC residents.

We also supported an increase in deed taxes in 2006 to help fund recommendations of a mayoral housing task force, but this was so non-controversial that Councilmember Jack Evans actually led the way. And DCFPI has opposed tax reductions that we deem unwise.

Tagged: budget, taxes

Ed Lazere is the Executive Director of the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, which conducts research and public education on budget and tax issues in the District of Columbia, with a particular emphasis on issues that affect low- and moderate-income residents.