TEN YEARS of elected local government end at midday today. More important, another decade begins, with much to do. There is a kind of infinite quality to home rule for the District of Columbia. No matter how much closer to it District residents keep coming, they never quite reach the full measure of local self-determination that others in this country take for granted. It shouldn't have to be this way, but the people of the District still have to earn each new increment of home rule as a reward for good behavior as judged by a skeptical federal establishment. So without intending to put any damper on the celebrations of the hour, we propose even greater efforts here and throughout the current 50 states for other measures of local democracy in America's last colony.
Start with the financing. No state or local government has more cumbersome, inefficient procedure for budget approvals. First the agencies submit their requests to the mayor, who submits his budget to the council. Fair enough. Then -- and this isn't fair -- the budget must go off to the White House for approval before submission to Congress.
Until the status of the District changes, the federal financial interest in this local budget is real, so a case can be made for some general White House review. Few would argue, too, that Congress has no oversight responsibility. It is, however, unnecessary, time-consuming and duplicative to have line-item-by-line-item review of every local spending proposal first by the House, then by the Senate, then by a conference committee and then by votes in each body, before the budget goes back to the president for signature.
At the very least, Congress should consider establishing a joint committee on D.C. appropriations that could hold a single set of hearings and approve a budget for immediate consideration by both houses. Nothing substantive in the way of federal oversight would be abdicated, and more than a few members of Congress would be relieved of chores they do not relish in the first place.
For that matter, why should Congress keep going over each spending proposal of the local government? Unless there is some clear violation of federal jurisdiction or responsibility, couldn't congressional review be limited to a general oversight and approval of the revenue/spending balance?
Beyond this, the District deserves full representation in Congress. A proposed constitutional amendment -- approved long ago by two-thirds of the House and Senate -- is still before the state legislatures for ratification. The time for securing the necessary approval of 38 states expires this year. Thanks to the untiring work of coalitions across the country, the number of approvals may grow before that deadline. These efforts deserve support to the end.
The quest for statehood -- which the people of the District approved in their vote for a proposed state constitution in 1982 -- is not inconsistent with the amendment drive. The federal interest in the capital can be guaranteed with the establishment of the 51st state. Politicians around the country will have to recognize that race, partisan affiliations, occupations and incomes are not proper standards by which full citizenship should be measured in this republic. That is what today's anniversary -- and all the hard years of home rule battles leading to it -- marks.