The Reagan administration voiced its disapproval yesterday of a proposal to make the District of Columbia a state, saying the city's economy is too closely linked to the federal government and that the measure would raise constitutional problems.
Assistant U.S. Attorney General Stephen J. Markman, testifying before a House subcommittee, said the administration "vigorously opposes" statehood because the proposal "is simply inconsistent with the federal system as it has existed for the past 200 years."
Framers of the Constitution, Markman said, envisioned a federal city "outside the borders of any state," a plan that would be compromised, he said, if U.S. jurisdiction were reduced to a small enclave as proposed.
Markman said Congress may be prevented from such a change without a constitutional amendment, and that any statehood bid might require consent from the Maryland state legislature, which ceded the D.C. territory to the federal government in the 18th century.
He said administration officials also question whether the District, which receives an annual federal payment of more than $500 million, more per capita than any state, could demonstrate that it has an independent economy sufficient to support its own government.
Markman's arguments were disputed by statehood advocates, who contend that Congress has sole jurisdiction to decide the statehood issue and that the city's economy is sufficiently broad-based to survive.
Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D-D.C.), chairman of a House subcommittee on the District, has been holding hearings on a statehood bill that supporters hope to bring up for a vote in the House this year.
A similar bill is in the Senate, where it is expected to meet stiff opposition from Republicans, who fear that statehood would guarantee two more Democratic senators.