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JONETTA ROSE BARRAS’ “The Tax-Free Zone” (12/2) served D.C. well by highlighting the scope of tax exemptions—but Barras inexplicably downplayed the extent of tax evasion by institutions such as Georgetown University.
First, the article omitted Georgetown’s known exempt properties. These amount to at least $140 million in value, which is higher than the exempt properties of George Washington University or American University.
Second, Georgetown’s tax evasion goes beyond its tax exemptions—the university’s business and commercial investments still escape D.C. taxation, even though the Citizens’ Coalition and Councilmember James Nathanson helped expose some of those violations over two years ago. It was in fact a Washington City Paper article which forced the Department of Finance and Revenue into levying real estate taxes on Georgetown’s Marriott-run hotel on its campus.
This may be still another example of the firm Wilkes Artis Hedrick & Lane at work—it was involved in hiding the hotel from the taxman’s eyes. With the cooperation of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, Wilkes Artis camouflaged Marriott’s Georgetown hotel as a “guest house.” The Kelly administration still has not collected a cent on the hotel. Taxes were levied for the years 1990-94 (the hotel was built in 1988), but Georgetown has sued the District to block collection, and the case is still being litigated. Since the university’s lawyers have hired a number of senior lawyers from the Corporation Counsel over the years, one must worry about whether the fox is watching the chicken coop, since it is the Corporation Counsel which pursues the case against Wilkes Artis’ client, Georgetown.
D.C. is wildly out of step, whether through corruption or ineptness. Other cities tax the academic property of universities—D.C. winks at millions in unpaid taxes on a university’s business ventures.
Thomas Stauffer, Georgetown