Proponents of D.C. statehood usually couch their arguments in terms of justice or equal representation, but a recent study suggests that they might do well to focus on yet another argument: the potential economic benefits to the District government.
The report was conducted for the District's budget commission by Stephen B. Farber, a private consultant and former executive director of the National Governors' Association.
Farber sought to calculate the positive financial impact of several features associated with statehood. He expects, for instance, a somewhat larger flow of federal grant funds that would result from aggressive lobbying efforts by newly elected members of Congress from the state of New Columbia.
He also looks at the financial downside of statehood -- the possibility, for instance, that Congress might reduce its annual payment in lieu of taxes and the cost of the city taking over the judicial system currently paid for by the federal government.
After comparing the positives and negatives, Farber arrived at the estimate that statehood could have reaped the cash-strapped D.C. government as much as $323 million in fiscal 1990, certainly enough to close a budget deficit in excess of $100 million that year.
Farber also examined the budgetary impact of several other forms of government, such as the District retroceeding to Maryland -- which he estimated would have a far less beneficial impact financially.
As Farber is quick to point out, his numbers are highly speculative and should be approached gingerly.
The biggest question mark has to do with the introduction of a non-resident income tax -- more commonly known as a commuter tax -- that Farber posits would follow from the passage of a statehood bill in Congress.
Farber estimates conservatively that such a tax could bring the city as much as $500 million in annual revenue from commuters from Maryland and Virginia who work in the District.
But under the Home Rule Act of 1973, the District is expressly prohibited from enacting such a tax, and Farber and other observers believe that Congress could well seek to continue such a policy as part of any statehood bill.
On the other hand, some legal scholars believe that once it becomes a state, the District would be on strong ground to challenge the prohibition of a commuter tax.
According to Professor Philip G. Schrag of Georgetown University Law Center, all states must be treated equally under the Constitution. Thus, Congress could ban a commuter tax for the state of New Columbia, he said, unless it banned commuter taxes in all states. All other states currently have the right to levy such taxes.
As a practical matter, statehood need not be the answer to the city's fiscal woes. The budget commission, for instance, stopped short of advocating statehood and instead recommended that Congress drop the prohibition against a commuter tax. Short of that, the commission recommended, Congress should simply increase the annual federal payment, which has remained constant at $435 million for the past five years.
Some statehood strategists, moreover, argue that it would be unwise to focus statehood arguments on economic grounds because that could frighten off Maryland and Virginia legislators deemed critical to the success of any statehood bill in Congress but who oppose a commuter tax.
"I think the statehood movement should be based on justice and equal citizenship," said Jamin Raskin, an American University law professor and former aide to Jesse L. Jackson, who was elected to lobby the Senate for D.C. statehood. "Fiscal concerns are secondary." Once More, With Feeling
They're at it again. Veteran council members Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4) and John Ray (D-At Large), bitter rivals in last fall's mayoral race, have begun another round of name-calling.
Their exchange came last week during a private council discussion on whether to approve furloughs. At one point Ray responded angrily to a Jarvis comment on the issue by calling her a "heifer," or cow. Jarvis then called him a "thug."
After the meeting, Jarvis fired off a caustic two-page letter to Ray about his remark, which she described as "extraordinarily offensive."
Jarvis said his conduct was an insult "to all of the women of this city who certainly expect and deserve elected officials who do not 'udder' negative, gender-charged statements."
But if Jarvis hoped for an apology from Ray, she won't get it. Ray said he dumped her letter in the trash, and suggested that her real anger is over his criticism of her council work, not his suggestion that she was a cow.
Ray said Jarvis has been called much worse in her 12 years on the council.
"I think heifer is a very mild word," he said.