In a story concerning the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, it was incorrectly reported last week that Del. Robin Ficker is a Democrat. He is a Republican. Ficker, it should also be noted, is the author of proposed state legislation that would revoke the rate-making authority of the WSSC.
WASHINGTON, EARLY IN 1985 -- To anyone who has been out of touch with Washington for a while, the National Capital Emancipation Act approved by Congress yesterday must be astonishing.
The law grants District residents votes in Congress. It gives most of the city full home rule. And most remarkable of all, it unifies the Washington regions and frees the suburbs from the grip of unsympathetic state governments in Richmond and Annapolis.
All this has been done in one blow, by reducing the federal district to a small enclave between Capital Hill and the Kennedy Center, and admitting the rest of the city, plus the suburbs, to the union as the State of Potomac, the 51st state.
The new state takes about 3.3 million people, half of whom work for, on or because of the federal government. It will rank 24th in population and first in per capita wealth.
At a jubilant press conference yesterday, regional leaders praised Congress for "granting us political rights." Then they scattered to launch their next campaigns. Mayor Marion Barry is expected to announce for governor tomorrow. So is former Prince George's executive Lawrence J. Hogan, regarded as the strongest GOP candidate despite his problems with TRIM and its successors, SLIM and STOP.
In the two Senate races the lineups are less clear. The Democratic front-runners, Rep. Herb Harris and ex-Del. Walter Fauntroy, face preliminary challenges from the 27 others at last count. The leading GOP candidiates so far are are Fairfax chairman Jack Herrity and Robin Ficker of Montgomery. Sen. Charles McC. Mathias Jr. who lives in Montgomery, has refused to comment on reports that he may run in the new state.
With large majorities in the city and Prince George's, the Democrats are expected to win all statewide contests unless Mathias runs. The GOP is likely to capture three of the six House seats and perhaps 40 percent of the state legislature.
How did these startling rearrangements come about? People obsessed with political neatness have nattered for years about revamping the Washington region's jumble of governments and making approaches to common porblems less tortuous. But as recently as 1979, creating a State of Potomoc was scarcely mentioned. It seemed absurdly extreme.The area's governments could not agree on much except Metro.And even if they wanted to unite, Congress was not likely to free the District; Maryland and Virginia seemed even less inclined to let thier richest regions secede.
Yet in 1979 the forces that would produce Potomoc were already building up. One was the District's desire for political rights.Another was financial pressure on the suburbs. The third and most decisive was, however ironically, the mounting anti-Washington sentiment outside the area.
The first pressure toward realignment came from the defeat of the D.C. voting rights amendment in the states. Hostility toward "Washington" played a major part in that. The District's friends argued from coast to coast that most of the capital's voteless residents were ordinary folk -- not rich lawyers, powerful lobbyists and arrogant regulators. It was true but it didn't sell, especially after state legislators heard that an average Washington house cost $100,000. (Remember the good old days of $100,000 homes?)
By mid-1980, the amendment's prospects looked so bleak that some District activists began musing privately about other routes to representation, such as statehood or reunion with Maryland.
The next impetus came from Congress, which decided to sever its ties with the capital during the 1983 campaigns. President Carter had endorsed budgetary independence for the District. Congress did not stop there. It also decimated the federal payment and, to ward off a fiscal disaster, authorized the city to levy a payroll (commuter) tax -- with congressional payrolls exempt.
The city council briskly enacted the tax. The suburbs promptly sued, charging "taxation without representation." The suit was quickly thrown out.
Suburban leaders then sought state laws to let commuters credit the District levy against their state income tax. The effort went nowhere in Richmond. In Annapolis, after a furious fight, the credit was defeated when two Montgomery delegates refused to support tax breaks for oystermen and state funds for a new Orioles stadium.
So commuters faced double taxation unless they moved their homes into the District or moved their offices out. Apparently the civic associations of Chevy Chase, Md., and Chevy Chase, D.C., were the first to define the obvious bargain, "taxationfor representation," which soon became "one tax, one vote."
Then came the Metro financing crisis of 1981, when long-range local commitments were due. With the system's operating deficits swollen by inflation, officials throughout the region were scrambling for politically tolerable sources of new funds. A regional tax began to look attractive, especially after the District offered to stop taxing commuters if Metro deficits were met through an areawide payroll tax.
An agreement was hastily reached, endorsed by the District and approved in Annapolis -- along with aid to watermen, strip-miners and most of Baltimore. The Virginia General Assembly passed the plan by a single vote after one rural delegate declared, "If we won't give Northern Virginia highway money or growth controls, at least we can give them a tax."
Then Gov. John Dalton vetoed the bill.
It's still not clear where in Arlington or Fairfax the secession movement began. Within days, though, every Northern Virginia politician had added up how much tax money his constituents were sending to Richmond and how much less they got back in services. By that fall's statewide elections, separatist sentiment was so strong that 63 percent of Northern Virginia's voters wrote in "none of the above" for governor.
All these forces came together in 1982. People throughout the region realized that they shared more than a subway; they also shared a strong economy, a river, sewer problems, the Kennedy Center, Bloomingdale's.
Local historians cited all the evidence of long-standing regional ties. There was the developer's boast in 1904 that the 1,100 residents of Falls Church "are chiefly employes of the government" whose interests "naturally center at the National Capital." And an Arlington promotional booklet had bragged that the region's "stability and growth" were assured because "of all the cities in the country," Washington "is least affected by adverse commercial conditions." That was in 1926.
New coalitions emerged. The environmental union took shape easily. Republicans began courting the large Vietnamese bloc in Arlington. The regional black caucus cam together after District politicians added up how many of their constituents had moved to Prince George's.
The key elements of a political alliance were fairly plain. The District wanted state financing of public assistance. Fairfax County insisted on state financing of roads. Arlington demanded a local veto over highways; Prince George's wanted the same for sewage treatment plants. Loudoun sought the power to regulate growth. Prince William wanted to be unregulated by anyone else.
Two points were easy. Public schools would not be shared -- and the state would ratify the ERA before the amendment's third extension expired.
Drafting the state constitution, however, took a year. At first, most people thought city-suburban conflicts would be the major obstacle. Those proved to be less troublesome than tensions between the "princes" (Prince George's and Prince William) and the "kings" (Fairfax and montgomery).
After Montgomery ended its brief boycott in mid-1983, only two points of contention remained. One was the state's name. "Washington," the obvious choice, had such bad connotations. Besides, it was taken. "Potomac" was arrived at by general exhaustion, and may be changed.
The last issue was the site of the new state capital. The District Building was inappropriate because it is in the federal enclave. Among the region's oldest cities, Bladensburg had little support; Georgetown disqualified itself by trying to stay in the federal zone. Alexandria is still in contention, but some Fairfax developers are reportedly about to offer a site near Tyson's Corner, the region's new commercial heart.
It was the agreement to defer that issue that finally enabled the region to submit the new state constitution to Virginia, Maryland and Congress this year. Richmond's approval came quickly.Though secession sould take away much of the commonwealth's wealth, both parties were also shrugging off some obstreperous elements. They seemed to welcome the chance.
Maryland was harder. In a desperate attempt to keep the suburban revenue in the state, Baltimore leaders argued that Potomac would turn out to be a high-cost, low-growth state, forever dependent on federal largesse. But as soon as the state court confirmed that the secessionist legislators could vote, the outcome in Annapolis was assured.
That left only Congress. With the new Republican administration committed to ending "federal dictation," Congress proved surprisingly willing to let self-determination in the region run its course. The prevailing sentiment was summed up by one senator who said yesterday, "If we let the bureaucrats have their own state, maybe they'll leave mine alone."
In the flurry of celebrations yesterday, such sour comments were largely ignored. So were several events that could foretell problems for the new state.
First, the average price of a home statewide hit $190,000.
Second, the Census Bureau reported that the fastest growth in the greater metropolitan area is still occuring around Frederick and Fredericksburg, beyond the new state lines.
Third, another downtown law office announced that it is moving more of its operations to Houston.
Finally, a House committee reported a bill that would continue the freeze on federal salaries and make all agencies transfer half of their activities to offices in the other 50 states.