Free the Government’s Plantation
The New York Times, Oct. 6, 1991
Washington, D.C., with a population of 607,000, has more people than Alaska, Wyoming or Vermont. But its elected officials have no real power and the city is denied a voting representative in Congress. The Federal Government treats the District as a colony, controlling local policy on issues ranging from sanitation to abortion and undermining the city’s ability to raise revenues.
Washingtonians deserve self-government no less than other Americans. A bill pending in Congress, H.R. 2482, would admit Washington to the union as New Columbia, the 51st state. The bill deserves attention and a vote of approval in the House. But that won’t happen until languid Democrats schedule hearings. The legislators need to provide more than lip service they’ve given to statehood in recent years. Even if statehood fails, debate could suggest intermediate solutions. The current arrangement is more suited to a dictatorship than a democracy.
Washingtonians have suffered long under second-class citizenship. They were first allowed to vote in Presidential elections in 1964. Permission to elect local officials followed slowly: in 1968, the school board; in 1971, a non-voting delegate to the House of Representatives; and in 1973, the mayor and the city council.
The Home Rule Act of 1973, which granted limited self-rule, contained dictatorial restrictions. The city cannot so much as reschedule garbage collection without groveling before Congress, which has 30 days in which to disapprove. Nor can the city determine its own budget or set independent policies. President George Bush recently forced the District to disallow the use of local tax revenues to furnish abortions for impoverished women. His weapon: vetoing the city budget. Impoverished victims of rape and incest will be denied a choice available to American women elsewhere.
The Federal presence harms the city fiscally. The District is forbidden to tax nonresidents, many of them Federal workers, who comprise about 60 percent of the work force. Federal properties are also exempt from real estate taxes. The city calculates that all taxing restrictions combined cost it $1.9 billion a year in revenues.
An ill-informed Mr. Bush said last year that he opposed statehood because the city’s funds `come almost exclusively from the Government.’ That’s wrong. The Federal contribution at that time was about 14 percent of the city budget, the Government gave a paltry $430 million in lieu of lost tax revenues. The cost of municipal services provided to the Government is difficult to calculate but potentially worrisome.
Those who oppose statehood often claim that the Constitution forbids creation of a state in the District. That claim is without merit. The Constitution says only that Congress will exercise exclusive legislative control over a seat of Government that does not exceed 10 miles square. A state could be created that reduce the size of the Federal enclave but not eliminate it.
The real objections to statehood are political. When Mr. Bush opposes statehood, he is opposing the creation of two additional Democratic Senators, one of whom would surely be Jesse Jackson, now an unpaid lobbyist, or `shadow senator,’ who represents Washington in the Senate. The Democrats also have acted spinelessly, giving statehood little more than token support.
How can the United States champion democracy abroad while it disenfranchises District citizens who die in wars and pay taxes the same way other Americans do? There is every reason for Democrats to gather courage, convene hearings and then bring the issue to the floor. Sooner or later, Congress will realize it has more important tasks than overseeing schedules for garbage collection.
This newspaper article was obtained from the Congressional Record in the Library of Congress related to H.R. 51, The New Columbia Admission Act of 1993. The article is not in the public domain but is being republished here under the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law in order to continue my advocacy for full representation for the American citizens of the District of Columbia.