To provide District Extra readers with primary source information on issues affecting their lives, from time to time we will publish excerpts of remarks, written statements and reports. Below is a portion of D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp's June 15 testimony on the city's budget to the Senate appropriations subcommittee on the District.
While speaking about items important to the District, I would like to mention [an] item that is not directly related to the budget, i.e. voting representation. It is important for the image of this country, the leader of the free world, to provide to all of its citizens the same rights we fight for abroad, the right for all citizens to be represented by persons they elect.
A number of pieces of legislation have been introduced. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton's bill, H.R. 398, No Taxation Without Representation Act of 2005, and its companion piece introduced by Senator Joseph Lieberman, S. 195, would treat the District as a state with full voting representation in the House and the Senate. Representative Thomas Davis's bill, H.R. 2043, District of Columbia Fairness in Representation Act, would add two seats to the House, one to the District of Columbia and one to the state of Utah, which narrowly failed to secure a fourth congressional seat after the 2000 census. In Representative Davis's bill, the District would be treated as a congressional district for the purpose of representation in the House. Representative Dana Rohrabacher's bill, H.R. 190, District of Columbia Voting Rights Restoration Act of 2005, would treat the citizens of the District as residents of the state of Maryland for the purpose of participating in elections for the House and Senate. While each piece approaches the issue in a different way, the key point is that they all call for voting rights to be granted to the citizens of the nation's capital. I ask that you support voting rights for the District of Columbia.
Historically, the relationship between the District and the federal government has been a unique political and financial arrangement. Between 1879 and 1920, the federal government would provide assistance by paying half of all District expenditures. Subsequently, given the various federal prohibitions on taxing nonresident incomes, federal properties, federal purchase of goods and services, the District would receive a direct payment. This payment was stopped in 1997 when the federal government assumed responsibility for the cost of the contributions to the police, firefighters and teachers' retirement plans, various court services and portions of other state functions.
It is worth recalling that when the 1997 Revitalization Act was passed, one recommendation was that Congress would not need to review or approve the District's budget because the city would no longer receive any federal payments. At a minimum, Congress should no longer approve the local portion of the District's budget. Under such a proposal the mayor would notify the committees on appropriations of the House of Representatives and Senate in writing 30 days in advance of any obligation or expenditure. Just like the other 50 states, the District should be solely responsible for approving its own local spending. Achieving such budget autonomy will allow the District to implement its budget in a timely manner and will assist in improving the city's fiscal management. I want to thank the subcommittee and the Senate for supporting this initiative in the past and would ask for your support of S. 800, the District of Columbia Budget Autonomy Act of 2005.
The District government is always challenged in developing its budget due to the ongoing structural imbalance that exists between its spending needs and its revenue-generation capacity. As noted in the General Accounting Office's May 2003 report, the imbalance ranges between $400 million to $1.143 billion per year. The report also noted that the cost of providing public services is much higher in the District than it is in the average state due to a relatively large poverty population, poor health indicators, high crime and the high cost of living. The report stated that the District has a very high revenue capacity, and the city is already taxing toward the upper limit of our revenue capacity, thereby creating a punitive tax structure.
The congressional limitations on the District's ability to tax certain institutions and persons severely restrict the city's ability to raise the revenue needed to cover both operational and infrastructure costs. These limitations are reflected in the streets and schools in need of repair. While the city currently has a management surplus of day-to-day operations, these dollars are insufficient to cover the total cost of infrastructure improvements.
The inability to fund infrastructure costs are not due to mismanagement by the District government. As noted earlier, the District government has maintained an A rating by the financial rating agencies over the last few years. It is due to the inability to tax revenue at its source and other infrastructure issues addressed in the 2003 GAO report.
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton has introduced bill H.R. 1586, the District of Columbia Fair Federal Compensation Act of 2005. The bill outlines the unique situation of the District of Columbia as a federal city. It proposes an annual federal payment of $800 million with provisions to adjust the number in the future. The $800 million would be made available to address important structural needs of the city, which the District government cannot fully fund from its current budget. Transportation and street maintenance, information technology and DCPS capital improvements are essential to the running of the city. I ask for this subcommittee to support this legislation and encourage adoption by the Senate.
Finally, as you consider our appropriations request, we ask that you support and pass the budget in time for the start of the new fiscal year and before the adjournment of the 109th Congress. Furthermore, we urge you to pass the budget as is, without any extraneous riders.