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As District taxpayers have learned over the years, filing for a tax refund with the city is a lot like stuffing a message in a bottle. “You’d get it back in three or four months—if you were lucky,” says Natwar M. Gandhi, the city’s deputy CFO for taxation.

This year, though, Gandhi and his boss, CFO Anthony Williams, are bragging all over town about a milestone in District governance: Refunds from the city treasury are coming back faster than those from the IRS. D.C., according to Gandhi, is issuing refunds on average 16 days after receiving a tax return—roughly a week faster than the IRS’s average lag time.

“I think it’s great,” says Ward 6 resident Christine Burton. “It’s about time the District government took an interest in its taxpayers.”

Not so fast. Virtually every state in the union beats the feds to the punch when it comes to refunds. District residents who really need quick cash should check into the ‘burbs. Maryland refund seekers get their checks on average nine days after filing—and within 48 hours if they go with electronic and direct-deposit options. “You can’t get too much faster than that,” says Maryland assistant comptroller Marvin Bond. According to Virginia Department of Taxation spokesperson Dianne DeLoach, 80 percent of Old Dominion refundees hit pay dirt within six days.

Even lowly Louisiana, long regarded as a backwater of corruption and municipal sloth, is kicking ass. The Louisiana Department of Revenue is processing paper refunds in eight days and electronic refunds in six days, according to communications director Danny Brown. The state even allows pre-qualified taxpayers to file by phone, which yields a five-day response time. Brown says tax officials from Indiana, Alabama, and Mississippi have called in asking how they do it. No calls yet from the folks in the District.

IRS representative Dom Laponzina isn’t surprised that D.C. has joined most other states in lapping the despised federal monolith. “You’ve got to recognize when you’re dealing with federal government that you’re dealing with larger numbers of returns,” says Laponzina, noting that the Philadelphia regional IRS dumping grounds receives 20 million returns a year. (The District receives 325,000.) And federal refunds plod through two processing points before the Treasury Department cuts the checks.

District finance officials can spin with the best NCAA hoop coaches on refund lags. When informed that Maryland is turning around refunds in nine days, Gandhi snaps, “Well, that’s just for their electronic returns.” No, that’s for both sorts of returns—paper and electronic. “Oh,” replies Gandhi. “I haven’t checked with them in a while.”

Whatever the response times of other states, says Gandhi, D.C. taxpayers should be happy with the progress in their own city. “Look from where we came,” he says.CP