12 April 2011

The Case For D.C. Statehood

There are two ways that the residents of the District of Columbia are disadvantaged in our political system relative to other states. First, they lack a representative of Congress or Senators of their own (although they do get electoral voters as if they did in Presidential elections). Second, the Congress in which they lack voting representation messes around with how they run their local affairs on a routine basis.

District of Columbia officials expressed outrage on Saturday about two provisions of the budget deal between Democrats and Republicans, saying they dictate how the capital should spend money. One bans it from using its own locally raised funds to pay for abortions for poor women. The second is a federally financed school voucher program, which city officials said was unnecessary because 40 percent of students already go to public charter schools.

There are upsides, of course, as well. The District of Columbia has far more revenues than it would as a state with mostly less affluent residents and a very large share of the District's tax base in the form of tax exempt governmental and non-profit enterprises.

There are also legitimate concerns that the District of Columbia, as a mere part of a larger metropolitan area, doesn't have a "complete" enough economy to be an economically viable entity, and that an independent District of Columbia, through its local control of the place where the nation makes its laws, could have undue influence on the legislative process.

Some alternatives that have been suggested to statehood for the District of Columbia (or all of it except a small federal district), which could be accomplished with a vote of Congress alone, would be the retrocession of the territory of the District to Maryland with Maryland's consent as well as that of Congress. This would follow the precedent of the retrocession the territory of the District that came from Virginia, called the County of Alexandria, in 1846 which allowed it to retain its slave trade. The slave trade, although not slavery, were banned in the District in 1850.

A retrocession of territory to Maryland would probably give Maryland an additional safe Democratic seat in Congress and would make some Senators accountable to D.C. residents, but would not tip the balance in the Senate any further towards Democrats, would actually slightly reduce the power of D.C. in the Presidential election (assuming that rump D.C. loses its electoral votes via constitutional amendment), would make already Democratic party leaning Maryland more safe politically at the state level, would provide greater local control, and would alleviate any doubts about economic viability. On the other hand, it would also suddenly impose upon the residents of D.C. a great many unfamiliar Maryland laws, in lieu of the laws that residents had crafted themselves in the District.


Michael Malak said...

Nit regarding "mostly less affluent": implies more than 50% poor, but the 2008 median household income was $58,553 compared to $52,029 nationally.


The city is divided roughly in half, with the west being highly affluent, the east being less affluent and areas such as southeast being poor. The line marches one block east every passing year. The homes that straddle that moving line are perhaps "median" but they comprise a small portion of the total.

Because I couldn't afford to buy a home in a low-crime area in DC, I moved to Denver instead.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

D.C. has probably gentrified quite a bit since I last lived in the metro area for a little while in the early 1990s (and while the rest of my family lived there for a while in the early 1990s while I was in college), and from when I regularly visited in the late 1980s. My memory must be biasing me and I welcome your corrective.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Answering my own question, it has gentrified a lot, with the per capita income, adjusted for inflation increasing about 50% since I live there.

Dave Barnes said...

Why should people living in DC have a voice in Congress?
They knew the rules before they moved there.
And, DC needs to take back that land in Virginia.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Because the right to have political representation is something that should be shared by all citizens. Would it be fair to have a law that deprived all new residents of Colorado of the franchise? Why should DC be any different?