Let’s face facts: the District of Columbia is not going to become a state in the foreseeable future. Right or wrong or somewhere in between, it’s simply not realistic.
Statehood for D.C. is not an ascending proposition enjoying improved prospects, regardless of whether the D.C. Council decides this month to pump more than a million dollars into a renewed effort. Progress is static at best.
The only congressional vote on statehood for the District occurred in the U.S. House of Representatives 20 years ago and was overwhelmingly defeated with broad bipartisan opposition. Political support has remained tepid and timid and transitory since, even among Democrats who would reap two U.S. senators.
As a result, advocates have been relegated to auxiliary issues of budget autonomy or acquiring a vote for the city’s single congressional delegate. Even the latter, if including a vote on the House floor and affecting the outcome of a legislative tally, has proven untenable. Meanwhile, the outlook for local control over revenue spending is good, continuing a positive trajectory on an issue that undercuts the larger effort for statehood.
The “Taxation Without Representation” slogan on D.C. license plates has begun to parody a perpetual whimsy.
It may be time for District leaders to come to grips with the intractable obstacles of outright opposition or lukewarm commitment by the two primary national political parties. That would require local politicians to set aside their instinctual desire for more rungs on the ladder of electoral elevation in order to reevaluate the quixotic quest for D.C. statehood. That may be the greatest obstacle.
Delusions about adding a star to the U.S. flag results only in a continuation of paying federal taxes absent congressional representation – the core complaint compelling remedy. Stubbornly clinging to what may be most desirable but which is not politically achievable rectifies nothing.
Hometown hegemony renders a recommendation of reconsideration hardcore heresy.
However, District residents should have the opportunity to choose between competing paths to rectifying the city’s status. The only citizen votes occurred 33 and 31 years ago, limited to a ballot initiative in 1980 approving the subsequent creation of a constitution and two years later an up-or-down decision on the proposed document for a state of New Columbia.
It’s possible that, given a comprehensive choice three decades later, D.C. voters might select another option. It’s probably fair to ask.
Resident reexamination would strengthen the call for statehood if reaffirmed by voters or, alternately, direct local officials to shift gears. At least we’d know.
The legally convenient alternative is to seek retrocession to Maryland, but this solution is also a non-starter. Our neighbor to the north doesn’t want us, seeing no upside in either diluting existing U.S. Senate representation or assuming the financial burdens of an urban area. Likewise, there is little evidence of local support for subsuming the District’s identity and legislative control to another entity. An overlord is an overlord.
Allowing that neither statehood nor retrocession is viable, what’s left?
Flipping the equation and advancing federal taxation termination in deference to the lack of congressional representation might prove surprisingly popular if allowed full and fair consideration. It might even be the most effective way to both draw attention to the issue and shame the rest of the country. Or make them drool.
Any disposition – statehood, retrocession, or a hybrid commonwealth status – would be complicated and involve intricate negotiation on a range of financial, legal and structural arrangements. For that reason, it is difficult to calculate the variable benefits and liabilities of any resolution scheme with certainty.
Utilizing what we don’t now possess to acquire the benefits of becoming a federal-tax-free jurisdiction could provide resident revenue relief, a boomtown business bonanza, explosive population growth, massive revenue generation, expansive economic development activity and extraordinary employment growth.
It might be worth a shot. What have we got to lose?
Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.