For the past two years, our neighbors, Virginia and Maryland, have urged us in the District to raise our legal drinking age, as they have. The pressure has been tremendous. It has taken the form of a resolution from the Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments, letters from various officials from neighboring suburban counties and cities, as well as letters and arm-twisting from the "voting" members of our neighboring states' congressional delegations.
While we in the District have always attempted to be good neighbors, it is up to us to decide whether to raise our drinking age.
The D.C. Council, pursuant to its mandate under the Home Rule Charter, has debated the issue -- apart from the immense pressure exerted on us from outsiders. In fact, the Council's Committee on Consumer and Regulatory Affairs held a hearing about this time last year on legislation, the "District of Columbia Legal Drinking Age Amendment Act of 1985," which would have raised the legal drinking age to 21 for all types of alcoholic beverages. After exhaustive consideration, however, the committee defeated the measure.
It was the correct decision. On the one hand, we stood to lose about $2.4 million in federal highway funds. On the other hand, if we had raised the drinking age, there is no question that restaurants, hotels and other entertainment establishments in the District would have suffered a loss of business that would have been reflected in decreased tax revenues. In addition, employment in these establishments -- entry-level positions the District so desperately needs -- would have declined.
But the economic impact was not the only motivating factor in our refusal to raise the drinking age. Whatever the experiences of Maryland, Virginia and the rest of the nation, the irrefutable evidence is that our young adult drivers commit a disproportionately low share of alcohol-related traffic offenses. It is simply unfair to single out our young citizens for the arbitrary treatment that Congress recommends in its attempt to blackmail states by tying the increase of the drinking age to receipt of federal highway funds.
Some fear that young adults from Maryland and Virginia will flock to the District for entertainment. This a "tail-wagging-the-dog" argument. For approximately 52 years, the District has permitted consumption of beer and wine by 18-year-olds, while the surrounding jurisdictions enforced a 21-year-old limitation. There is no evidence that this difference between the states and the District has caused a terrible problem. Besides, the District has always been an entertainment center for the metropolitan area. In fact, the hospitality industry, as I have noted, is a significant source of revenue here.
In the District, an 18-year-old can marry, become a member of the armed forces, own a bar and a liquor license and exercise that most cherished right, the right to vote. Oddly, some would say that an 18-year-old is old enough to vote but not to drink. If our neighbors looked at the statistics more closely, they would discover that it's the 25- to 35-year-olds who are the real problem. Are we going to raise the drinking age nationwide to reflect this fact? Of course not.
It's admirable that certain members of Congress would like the District's drinking age to conform to that of Maryland and Virginia. I hope the same cooperative spirit comes into play when we call upon them to enact gun-control legislation to conform with our laws, or to support our call for a balanced and fair federal payment, or even to support our request for a commuter tax.
Remember, conformity is a two-way street.