Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx threatened to shut down the DC Metro subway system when an electrical fire at one of the stations caused a day-long shutdown. It reminded me of the old Jimmy Stewart movie “Shenandoah,” in which a southern family tries to stay out of the Civil War, the patriarch continually asserting that “it doesn’t concern us.” When his own son was taken prisoner, Stewart’s character finally saddles up and joins the war with the solemn proclamation, “Now it concerns us.”
Maintenance headaches have plagued that subway system for years, and numerous similar electrical fires have led to frequent service interruptions. But this particular fire incident got the attention of the Secretary for one simple reason. It happened at the Federal Center Southwest Station, the one that serves the U.S. Department of Transportation’s own headquarters building. I could just see the Secretary and his staff, several of whom were no doubt personally inconvenienced, calling an emergency meeting and declaring “Now it concerns us.”
The incident once again makes a mockery of the perennial issue involving the proposed statehood for Washington, D.C. And just when you thought that issue might have died down again, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser is again calling for a citywide vote on whether the nation’s capital should become the 51st state, and has released another new proposed state constitution. Coincidentally, it would automatically make the Mayor D.C.’s first governor and the current city council its first legislature. Almost certainly, it will not happen – and it shouldn’t.
City leaders in D.C. have long maintained the charade that residents are denied representation. In fact, even the D.C. license plates bear the revolutionary war slogan “Taxation without representation.” They pretend the founders had no reason to put the Capitol in a district that was not part of any state, and claim Congress never pays any attention whatsoever to the needs of Washington, D.C. That ignores several important details.
Washington is a city, not a state. It has neighborhoods, not counties. Its politics are monolithic and its people share the same interests – including an interest in subsidizing everything they do with tax money from the rest of the country.
The City actually enjoys greater representation in Congress than any other part of the country. The D.C. metro area has about 5.8 million residents, including 4 U.S. Senators and 5 Congressmen from its suburbs – and ALL the other Members of Congress (and 3,000 presidential appointees) who spend most of the time there.
Washington is really closer to “representation without taxation” than the other way around. Congress subsidizes D.C. government almost $1 billion dollars a year, and D.C.’s delegate in Congress sits on the Appropriations Committee to see that lots of money goes to her favorite local projects. That’s only a fraction of the story, though, considering the tens of billions spent to build the city itself – expensively. What Colorado city can afford to eschew concrete, building its sidewalks of brick and its curbs of granite? Where else are city streets maintained by the National Park Service, or traffic enforcement provided by U.S. Capitol Police? Washington is a beautiful city with parks, fountains, plazas, circles, and magnificent architectural masterpieces – all built by the entire nation’s taxpayers.
The founders understood exactly why the seat of government could not be part of any State, as it would provide an advantage to those residents. Diluting the representation of all other states to give a single city even greater hold – over a country it already dominates – would be a colossal mistake. There is a much simpler choice.
If the issue is really about giving D.C. residents a vote in Congress, the answer is easy – simply give the non-federal part of the city back to Maryland (from which it was originally carved). That would gain an additional congressional district for Maryland. The Virginia portion of the original district was ceded back to Virginia in 1847, and that solution would still work. However, the simple reason D.C. won’t accept that is pure partisan politics. Democrats support statehood and Republicans don’t, because D.C. always votes Democratic (statehood would provide two more Democrats in the Senate).
The final irony is that many D.C. residents say they want statehood, but have no desire to give up all the perks of living in Washington, from the right to in-state tuition at colleges in every state to the heavily subsidized subway system. And they certainly have no desire to take on the financial burden of running one of the nation’s most inefficient, corrupt, and wasteful cities. These residents want the continued subsidies that come with being wards of the national government, not the responsibility of statehood. They live in a giant city of perks, built by the hard work and tax money of the entire rest of the country. Now it concerns us.
(This column originally appeared in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel May 27, 2016)