Reasons for DC statehood

Someone recently wrote a screed in the Chevy Chase DC neighborhood list-serve, opposing DC statehood, basically saying that DC government already spends too much and would see statehood as a new gravy train.

The attack on DC statehood sounded to me very much like a veiled attack on the regime of the long-dead Marion Barry and a supposedly graft-ridden city infested with too many Black folks — but maybe that’s just me being too sensitive? True, he didn’t use any racist code-words, but…)

The measured response below was written by somebody named Ed Myers.

I did a little research myself and found that a lot of other state governments with about the same population as DC or even less, have state legislatures much larger than DC’s city council and who are each paid a fair amount of money.

Now, if you have 10 times more legislators than DC does, as some of these states do, and if the state pays them 1/2 as much as the DC government pays its city council, then that would still mean that DC pays one-fifth as much for its full-time legislative body as those states do. Just sayin‘.

A brief calculation reveals that Vermont, with fewer people than DC, has a combined Senate and Legislature of 180 elected citizens. Adding up their weekly stipend and the number of weeks they are actually in session, I found that Vermont pays them just under two million dollars per year. DC pays its 12 ordinary members $140K per year, with the Chairman earning $210K. If you add those up, you get just about the same compensation for our full-time City Council as Vermont does for its enormous part-time legislature.

I’ll run the numbers again later.

With the matter of the SUVs: Kwame Brown did this 10 years ago and was roundly excoriated. Notice that he’s not on the council any more!

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By Ed Byers
A few thoughts, subject to refinements, on some statehood questions:

1. Would statehood for DC mean an expansion of our DC government?

DC already has the responsibilities of a state; just not the rights.  It is doubtful that we will need much governmental expansion in our new state. DC’s proposed constitution (see link) does not seem to contain much, if any, of a power grab. DC would pick up some responsibilities in criminal justice. If the new state government wanted expansion beyond its current levels, it would have to pass its budgets through the usual public process. If the Governor and Legislative Assembly proposed excessive budgets, in DC resident views, then they would be subject to being voted out.

https://statehood.dc.gov/page/draft-constitution

2. Does DC have excessive bureaucracy?

A concern was expressed that, “We already have 4 times as many city/county/state workers as any other major city in the country.” It is inaccurate to compare DC’s state/county/municipal workforce size to the workforces of other municipalities, which lack county and state responsibilities. Nonetheless, I would like to see some citation on the “4 times” data?  A US Census Bureau special study on DC’s workforce size, conducted many years ago, found that we are in line with other jurisdictions, once state, county, and city functions are combined. This study could be updated, at low cost.

3. Would statehood result in expansion of the DC Council?

A concern has been expressed that the DC Council with 13 members is already excessive in size, on a per capita basis, compared to New York City.  It is inaccurate to compare a city council in another state’s city with DC’s council size, since we have all of our state and county responsibilities added in to what our DC Council does.  Looking at the size of some state legislatures:

DC has more voting age population than Alaska. Alaska has 60 members in its Senate/House legislative body. Wyoming, with far fewer people than DC in population, has a combined Senate/House total of 90 members. Vermont has fewer people than DC, and it has 180 members. Other states with similar populations to DC’s could also be cited, with similar results. Of course many of those members are paid low salaries or stipends. This will all have to be argued out in DC, as we become a new state. 

According to a Washington Post (May 6, 2016) view of potential expansion of the government resulting from statehood, just looking at the proposed DC constitution:

…the District would not create many new positions, such as a lieutenant governor or a 40-member legislature. Rather, it would keep the current city council size of 13 members, elect them in the same fashion but call the body a state legislature.

4. Is DC economically viable enough to be a state?

As noted earlier, DC’s population is greater than that of Vermont and Wyoming, and we have a larger voting age population than Alaska. We would be first among states in GDP per capita, first by median household income, and 34th by total GDP among all states.

5. What is DC’s tax burden?  Would it grow if we no longer got federal help?

DC already pays more federal taxes in absolute dollar amounts than do 22 states. In per capita taxes, DC ranks number one in federal taxes paid. When Congress adopted COVID relief to states, DC’s share was at a far lower level than a state’s per capita share; we were treated as a territory, even though (unlike territories) we pay the same federal tax rates as do the states.

DC receives between 25 and 30 percent of its budget from the feds. This is less than found in five states and on par with three others.  We should keep in mind that half of our land is tax exempt due to federal and foreign government land use, with much of it (to be computed) outside the proposed federal enclave.  Moreover, national charitable organizations are given property tax exemptions via special act of Congress. We should not lose compensation for continuing conditions.

Most importantly, every state in America has the power to tax the income of nonresidents earning income within its borders. This is the standard non-resident income tax (as distinct from a commuter tax that some cities have), with a full credit given on home state taxes. Some adjustment in the new state for non-resident taxation would provide for significantly lower DC residents’ tax burdens in a new state. 

6. Is DC statehood just a Democratic Party power play to change the composition of the Senate?

The US Senate already has a strong rural bias, with low-population states like Wyoming having the same number of senators as California. Allowing DC citizens to have the same democratic rights as do other citizens in the 50 states would mean correcting for some, and far from all, of the Senate’s current rural bias.

7.  Further resident participation in shaping DC Statehood

HR 51 provides for adoption of a state constitution in Sec. 401 (5), which has already taken a number of steps. From H.R. 51:

The term “State Constitution” means the proposed Constitution of the State of Washington, D.C., as approved by the Council on October 18, 2016, pursuant to the Constitution and Boundaries for the State of Washington, D.C. Approval Resolution of 2016 (D.C. Resolution R21–621), ratified by District of Columbia voters in Advisory Referendum B approved on November 8, 2016, and certified by the District of Columbia Board of Elections on November 18, 2016.

An 18-member Statehood Transition Commission is established in Sec 402 of H.R. 51 to provide detailed guidance, composed of federal and DC members. The Commission is authorized to hold public hearings as their work proceeds.

8. Is DC ready for statehood?

Concerns are at times expressed about DC’s lack of responsible behavior. For example, did the Council vote themselves $50,000 SUVs, as has been commented? Maybe (I can’t find anything on that). The other side of that same coin:  DC every day overcomes challenges of deep poverty concentrations (zoned into DC by our suburbs, and implemented by the feds before home rule). DC welcomes these opportunities to help people lift themselves from poverty concentrations. DC does so while achieving good performance ratings on the full variety of DC services and with balanced budgets. 

DC is long overdue (and more than just “ready”) for democracy and the rights of citizenship experienced throughout the USA. The nation could learn much from us if we could participate fully in our democracy.

Ed Meyers

Published in: on February 16, 2021 at 1:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

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