Congress ‘Better Not Interfere’ on D.C. Tax Lien Scandal, Norton Says

Posted September 11, 2013 at 2:39pm

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., says Congress “better not interfere” with the scandal over the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue’s program of auctioning tax liens of delinquent homeowners.

A recent series in The Washington Post documented how the office imposed liens on delinquent tax bills and sold the liens to investors, a program that provides a financial incentive to outsourcing debt collection over keeping people in their homes.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, of which Norton is a senior member, has asserted itself over many District issues in the past, particularly budget autonomy. But Norton told CQ Roll Call on Wednesday that it wouldn’t be appropriate for the committee to conduct oversight over the issue, nor did she seem to think it was a matter for her own office to address.

“No, no, no, no. There’s no role for the federal government … whenever they intrude, they are overriding their own decision in 1974 that gave the District of Columbia complete and total jurisdiction over city affairs, so they better not interfere with it,” Norton said. “If you had this problem in Baltimore, I don’t think you would come to the congressman from Baltimore. You would go to the people in charge. That’s the way we operate on these things.” Asked if any constituents had contacted her about the tax lien problems, she said, “No, they wouldn’t contact me because they know I’m not the source of the remedy.”

Earlier in the day, D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells, a 2014 mayoral candidate who represents Capitol Hill, called for scrapping the lien auction process altogether and the “immediate replacement” of D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi. “The failure of the city to prevent predatory tax liens is a tragedy … the goal of the government — including the tax office — should always be to keep people in their homes.”

Mayor Vincent Gray and D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans, another mayoral candidate, have called for a legislative fix but not a scrapping of the system.