Tax Fairness for D.C.
The New York Times, October 30th, 1993
With a population of nearly 600,000, the District of Columbia has more people than Vermont, Wyoming or Alaska. Yet its Mayor and City Council have limited power. And the District is denied a voting representative in the same Congress that rules on its affairs.
The colonial character of this arrangement was underscored this week when Congress voted on the Washington D.C. budget, and grandstanding politicians from other places tried to deny its citizens the right to spend their own money as they see fit.
The District’s budget totaled $3.7 billion. The $3 billion came from District citizens in taxes; all but a tiny fraction of the rest is what the Federal Government pays for occupying 41 percent of the District’s land, on which it pays no taxes. The Federal payment is a miserly sum, given that the Government presence costs the District $2 billion a year in lost tax revenues.
Still, many in government see the District as a pawn in a political game. George Bush once vetoed the city budget, forcing the District to ban the use of even locally raised tax revenues to furnish abortions for impoverished women. C-Span’s broadcast of the District’s budget vote showed the latest act in this political amateur hour.
Representative Dan Burton, Republican of Indiana, seemed not to have read the budget bill but that didn’t deter him. He questioned the salaries of the District’s City Council members, and condemned District voters who chose to return the former Mayor to office as a Councilman. He picked out random lines in the budget and asked the sponsors to explain them. This nitpicking came at the end of a tortuous 18-month process that the District suffers to get its budget.
Congress as usual? Perhaps. But imagine yourself a citizen of the District, with no voting representative in Congress, watching as Congressmen questioned not just the vote you had cast in your city, but your entitlement to tax dollars that you had paid to local government for local use. How angry would you be?
Mr. Burton rationalized his antics by contending that Federal tax dollars were at stake. But the bulk of the budget is D.C. tax money. The Federal payment that makes up the rest is rent, and skimpy rent at that. Congress oversteps in trying to control how its bargain-basement rent is spent. Mr. Burton was performing for the people back home. But what people in Indiana need to see is that their Congressman is trampling on the rights of citizens just like them, all for a little time on camera. No wonder Congress was besieged by District demonstrators agitating for statehood.
It’s hypocrisy that America champions democracy abroad while refusing fair political treatment to the citizens of its own capital.
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.