July 6, 2004
Supplemental Written Testimony of John Forster
Activities Coordinator, Committee for the Capital City
Before Committee on Government Reform, Tom Davis, Chairman
Committee on Government Reform
Tom Davis, Chairman
"Common Sense Justice for the Nation's Capital: An examination of Proposals to Give DC Residents Direct Representation", June 23, 2004
Thank you again Chairman Davis for holding these important hearings and for keeping the record open to enable the submission of additional testimony.
The Committee for the Capital City's previously submitted testimony supports the legislative proposals of both Congressmen Dana Rohrabacher (H.R. 3709) and Ralph Regula (H.R. 381.) These bills provide in our view equitable solutions to the voting rights, home rule and governmental structure issues that face the citizens of the District of Columbia.
Proposals that seek to solve our local voting-rights problem with Maryland-based solutions are often met with two general objections: DC residents state a desire to keep their city intact and fear losing their identity by becoming a part of Maryland, while Maryland residents voice their objection to being saddled with the perceived problems of the District of Columbia. This testimony will briefly look at both issues.
Proponents of reunion with Maryland, as represented by the Committee for the Capital City, advocate keeping the city of Washington intact as a home-rule city within the State of Maryland. Reunion with Maryland would preserve our existing borders, neighborhoods, and unique status as the nation's capital city. As a Maryland home-rule city, Washington would maintain all of our elected positions including the mayor, the city council, and the advisory neighborhood commissions. Local elected officials would be responsible for running the city of Washington without congressional oversight, just like the locally elected officials do in Maryland's twenty-three counties and one other home-rule city (Baltimore).
Some of the unique features of Washington need to be relegated to the history books. The lack of voting rights in Congress, the lack of participation in a state government, and the lack of control of our own local political affairs all need to join other national civil and voting rights abuses that have been ended by federal legislation. There is no need to preserve our existing disenfranchisement for history's sake.
If Washington were to be accepted by Maryland as a new home-rule city in that state, we would gain representation in the US Senate and House of Representatives while preserving our local political infrastructure. In addition, we would gain the new representation of a governor and, by our calculation, four senators and twelve delegates to the Maryland state legislature.
Like all other Maryland counties and cities, the city of Washington would gain access to State of Maryland assistance in areas such as education, health care, and law enforcement, benefiting the citizens of Washington and the commuters and tourists who visit here. Montgomery County, Prince George's County and Baltimore all benefit from state assistance. It would be very expensive and inefficient for these jurisdictions to provide their own state services, as we know from our experience here in Washington DC, a jurisdiction with a population smaller than each.
The second issue we would like to address is the effect of reunion upon Maryland. We believe that Maryland would have much to gain if it were expanded to include the city of Washington. Washington is obviously one of the most well known cities in the world. We have a higher per-capita income than the State of Maryland and our budget is balanced. Our real estate, sales, and income tax revenues are rising rapidly. Improving financial strength is a trend that is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.
Washington could become Maryland's crown jewel and aid that state immeasurable in its campaign for economic growth and political prestige. Cost savings that would occur by eliminating duplicate government-services overhead would further accrue to the people and taxpayers of both jurisdictions.
From a regional political perspective, reunion with Maryland benefits the interest of Montgomery and Prince George's counties to move the center of Maryland closer to the Washington suburbs. Baltimore could be expected to join with Prince George's county in welcoming Washington's African-American majority into not only Maryland, but into the American political system, contributing to solving a civil rights battle in their own backyard. Statewide, reunion provides Maryland with a ninth Congressional district and an additional electoral vote.
The partisan political situation doesn't look insurmountable either. The Democratic Party in Maryland would surely favor the additional largely Democratic voters, strengthening their hold of the two US Senate seats and the state government, and increasing their likelihood of taking back the governorship.
While the Maryland Republican party would seem to have little to gain, joining Democrats in support of this proposal would end the chance of Washington DC gaining two Senators or statehood, both fight-to-the-death battles for Republicans who oppose two US Senators exclusively representing Washington DC. In reality, both Maryland Democrats and Republicans should fear increased federal representation for a separate Washington DC and the impact of that power on the imposition of commuter taxes. It is surprising to some that Maryland Democrats have not joined their Republican counterparts in opposition to DC-only senators and/or statehood for DC, both measures that would greatly increase the chance of a commuter tax and the resultant damage to Maryland's budget and services.
As we addressed in our previous testimony, reuniting Washington DC and the State of Maryland requires the recognition of these many benefits by all concerned.
Congress can and should, however, move sooner by providing first the restoration of federal voting rights as laid out in Congressman Rohrabachers's bill. Congress should have no reservations about this Maryland-based solution to the lack of voting rights for Washington DC residents. Unlike the Regula reunion bill that will require significant study to analyze and implement, the Rohrabacher bill that restores the same full federal voting rights to DC residents could be passed quickly with bi-partisan support.
Washington DC voters need representation in the House and Senate, and there is no more a feasible, constitutional or bi-partisan way to achieve that goal than passing HR 3709, the District of Columbia Voting Rights Restoration Act of 2004.