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Maddee Dimacale

Dr. Henderson

Geography of North America

11 April 2019

Repercussions of Washington, D.C.’s Lack of Statehood

Washington, D.C. was founded in 1790 for the sole purpose of being the nation’s capital.

It is a federal district that is Congress’s jurisdiction. Back during its creation, the city was

different than it is now in regards to population, demographics, density, land area, politics, and

ideals. D.C. has grown in many ways in the last two centuries. Problems have arisen from the

political decisions that the founders made that are affecting the current population. In

attempting to keep the nation’s capital unbiased, they have effectively taken away the political

voice of the capital’s residents, rendering them vote-less in the House of Representatives and

the Senate. With no formal representation in Congress, D.C. residents are being limited in their

say over national legislation, unlike any other residents in the United States. During a hearing

before the US Senate’s Committee of Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs in 2007,

Chairman Lieberman claimed that lack of DC statehood was “a tear in the fabric of our

American democracy” (Equal Representation in Congress: Providing voting rights to the District

of Columbia, 2008). In order to rectify this democratic oversight, it has been proposed that

Washington, D.C. becomes its own independent state, much like Pennsylvania or New Jersey.

Situated within the parameters of Megalopolis, D.C. is a second order city that borders

both Maryland and Virginia. The two states ceded land along the Potomac River in 1970 to

distinguish the city from the rest of the nation (“The History of Washington, DC,” n.d.). In the
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mid-1800s, some of the land that originally was a part of Virginia retroceded from DC, “after

the voters of Alexandria elected to leave DC, feeling that they had been left out of development

on the other side of the river,” showing how it has historically been possible for the city to

decrease in physical size to support the demands of its residents (“The History of Washington,

DC,” n.d.). Ironically for a city that is the capital of the nation most well-known for democracy,

its residents’ political voice is hindered by its governmental setup. During the formation of D.C.,

Alexander Hamilton proposed that D.C. residents should be able to continue voting in their

former state, either Maryland or Virginia, until the population grew to a certain limit and

Congress would give D.C. its own voting representation (Richards, n.d.). Obviously, Hamilton’s

proposal was not adopted or D.C. may not have the issues it currently is facing.

Instead of Hamilton’s idea, D.C. was denied equal seats that states have in the House

and Senate. D.C. was only allowed a nonvoting delegate in the House of Representatives and a

shadow senator to represent them in Congress (“The History of Washington, DC,” n.d.). It was

not even until 1964 that D.C. residents could vote in Presidential election, which is a basic right

that all American citizens are allowed to exercise after they come of age. Similar to Wyoming,

D.C. has three electoral votes. In 1973, the city was finally allowed to elect its own mayor (“The

History of Washington, DC,” n.d.).

While the lack of representation may not have posed a huge problem in the past, it is

now a contentious issue. When the plan for D.C. was set into place, the city’s population was

only approximately 14,000 people (E. A. H, 2016). In the past two centuries, the city’s

population has seen tremendous growth. As of 2017, D.C. has a population of 693,972 people

living within its borders, which is 50 times the size it was when it was founded (“Quick Facts:
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District of Columbia,” n.d.). Due to Washington, D.C. being founded to remain politically

impartial and, therefore, not having real representation in Congress, issues regarding

representation, ideals, and funding have arisen and become progressively more important with

the increasing population.

Currently, D.C. has extremely high population density due to its small area and large

population. The area of the whole federal district is 68 square miles of both land and water, and

just 61 square miles of land (“District Of Columbia Population 2019,” n.d.). If it were to become

a state, it would not have the smallest population out of any state. Wyoming and Vermont both

have fewer people living within their border than D.C, which would make D.C. the 49 th most

populous state if it were to become a state (“District Of Columbia Population 2019,” n.d.).

Within a generation, it has been estimated that the city could also outnumber Alaska and North

Dakota (Maggie Baldridge, 2017). If a whole state the size and population of Alaska were to lose

their representatives in the House and Senate, then Americans would be up in arms over a right

as an American being denied. The circumstance that not many people outside of D.C. residents

are passionate about this issue may be due to the size of the area being discussed. It is easier to

visualize the issue when the area being burdened is large, even if there is a small population,

than to visualize the issue being important for a small area, even if the population is large and

dense. Chairman Lieberman stated, “I have seen polls to suggest that most Americans would be

shocked to hear that the residents of the District and their delegate cannot vote on the House

of Representatives’ floor” (Equal Representation in Congress: Providing voting rights to the

District of Columbia, 2008).


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Economically, D.C. is as capable as any other state to raise enough revenue to support

state-like programs independently. “In 2014 the District paid the federal government $26.4

billion…The district only received $3.5 billion in federal grants, payments, and court

contributions in fiscal year 2014 – a difference of roughly $22.9 billion,” and the city actually

paid more than 22 other states (Kevin Lang, 2016). In recent years, D.C.’s payments to the

federal government have been increasing, showing that the city’s residents are greatly

contributing in the form of taxes, yet have limited say over where their tax money goes (Figure

1). The current status of the city fiscally disadvantages its residents. Its status affects its ability

to raise revenue and provide the city with public services. Without all of the benefits of being a

state, the city performs state functions, such as providing schools, police and fire departments,

motor vehicles services, Medicaid, mental health services, higher education, and other state-

like tasks (Alice M. Rivlin, 2009). Unlike states, D.C. is prohibited from certain taxing privileges;

D.C. cannot tax for the income earned within its borders by nonresidents, which would

potentially be a huge chunk of revenue because a large proportion of workers in D.C. commute

from the metro area (Alice M. Rivlin, 2009). D.C.’s metro area is the 7th largest in the country

with a population of over six million (“District Of Columbia Population 2019,” n.d.). In 2013,

D.C.’s population during the workdays increased by 79% when commuters enter the city,

increasing the population to over a million (Martin Austermuhle, 2013). That means that during

that year, D.C. was incapable of charging an income tax on almost 500,000 workers.
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Figure 1. Total Annual Internal Revenue Collections for D.C. (Kevin Land, 2016)

The federal government denies the city taxing rights that every state has, yet utilizes city

services without contributing funds. The federal government, which is the city’s largest

employer, is except from paying property, sales, or incomes taxes (Alice M. Rivlin, 2009). On top

of that, many events within the city having to do with the federal government utilize a lot of

services from the city. Inaugurations and demonstrations are two examples of events that need

D.C. police, public transportation, parks, and other services to be organized and safe, but the

federal government usually does not reimburse the city for the assistance (Alice M. Rivlin,

2009). This means that the federal government is basically a free-rider for the services it does

not pay for, while simultaneously limiting the city in raising revenue to run these services.

Similar to any other city, D.C. struggles with poverty, which would be partially alleviated

with control over revenue. D.C. have an above average poverty rate of 16.6% while the national

average is approximately 12% (“Quick Facts: District of Columbia,” n.d.). Impoverished people
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have a greater need for public services, making it critical that D.C. has the funding to support

that. Along with this, D.C. has one of the highest city populations of black or African Americans,

which has made this issue a Civil Rights issue in the past (“Quick Facts: District of Columbia,”

n.d.). Increasing the city’s funding by allowing it to become a state and have control over its

taxes would give the new state the ability to improve upon its public services and provide for its

disadvantaged population.

Overall, the main issues with D.C. not being a state are no representation, taxing policy

is difficult, citizens pay federal taxes with no real representation, and funding for public works.

The main solution for these issues is to make Washington, D.C. into a state. There is a proposal

to break the current area of D.C. into two sections. The biggest section (red) would the “State

of New Columbia”, which includes the residential areas of current D.C., and the smaller section

(white) would be the new District of Columbia (Rebecca Hersher, 2016) (Figure 2). The new,

smaller capital would basically only include the US capital building, White House, Supreme

Court, National Mall, and some parks and monuments nearby (German Lopez, 2016). The idea

of this is similar to the Vatican in Rome; Vatican City is its own independent city-state, basically

only including the Vatican building, giving the Catholic Church independence from the

surrounding area. The same would be said for the new District of Columbia within the State of

New Columbia. Residents of the current D.C. area have been shown to be in favor of this

proposal. Back in 2016, D.C. polled its residents on whether they would be in favor of splitting

the city into two sections in order to secure Congressional representation. The polls showed

that 79% of residents support that idea (Rebecca Hersher, 2016). The citizens would be allowed
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two senators, much like any other state, and three representatives in the House, similar to the

number that Wyoming has because of the comparable populations.

Figure 2. Proposal for Dividing D.C. into the State of New Columbia and the new District of Columbia (German Lopez, 2016).

Like any other political decision, there is a strong opposition to D.C. statehood. The

reasoning behind the opposition can be sorted into two categories: historical and political. The

historical argument is that the nation’s capital was formed specifically to remain under federal

control to avoid having single state control the federal government (German Lopez, 2016). This

point seems less persuasive these days because the federal government would still be an

independent entity and the State of New Columbia will most likely not attempt to overthrow

the government if it disagrees with the politics. The political argument is that adding more

senators will ultimately decrease other states’ power in Congress and also add another

probable blue state to the Union. By adding two more senators to the group of 100, each

current senator’s power will decrease. At the moment, each senator has 1% of the power, and
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by adding two more, their power will decrease to about 0.83%. D.C. is a known Democratic

stronghold that always votes blue, making Republicans less inclined to accept the proposal of

statehood (German Lopez, 2016). None of these reasons seem to be convincing enough to

justify about 700,000 American citizens not having their voices heard in Congress.

If D.C. were to win its statehood, there would be potentially large consequences within

the state, nation, and world. Having control over taxing, policy, and other state elements would

greatly influence the new state’s infrastructure, school system, and other public works. D.C.

would probably see an increase in revenue. Nationally, Congress is the United States’ policy

making body. Just one senator or representative can have a huge influence in the laws and

policies being passed within Congress. Therefore, by giving D.C. seats at these tables, they have

the power to show their support/disapproval on certain issues with their votes. They should be

given this chance regardless of the historical or politically-biased arguments because the United

States is a democracy built upon voting. Globally, decisions that happen within the US have the

potential to affect other countries. The US is a global leader with other countries using it as an

example. By having power within the federal government, the State of New Columbia could

contribute to a policy that has far reaches.

Overall, the lack of D.C.’s statehood has put a strain on the city, negatively impacting its

residents. The nondemocratic system occurring in D.C. is imbalanced because “these citizens

served in the Armed Forces, pay federal taxes, participate and benefit from numerous federal

programs, and support a local government. Yet they cannot choose a Representative with full

voting rights for the House that sits in their midst” (Equal Representation in Congress: Providing

voting rights to the District of Columbia, 2008). Currently, it does not look like the state
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proposal will be passing any time soon. There is hope, though, because looking back at the

United States’ history, “The territories of Alaska and Hawaii campaigned for statehood for more

than forty years before they were admitted to the Union” (Raven-Hansen, 1991). Persistence

and passion have been shown to work in this country. Until the time when D.C. gets proper

representation in government, its license plate saying of “No Taxation without Representation”

will continue to be an irony.


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Citations

Alice M. Rivlin. (2009, July 13). If the District of Columbia becomes a State: Fiscal Implications.

Retrieved from https://www.brookings.edu/testimonies/if-the-district-of-columbia-

becomes-a-state-fiscal-implications/

District Of Columbia Population 2019. (n.d.). Retrieved from World Population Review website:

http://worldpopulationreview.com/states/district-of-columbia-population/

E. A. H. (2016, April 28). Why Washington, DC is seeking statehood. Retrieved from

https://www.economist.com/the-economist-explains/2016/04/27/why-washington-dc-

is-seeking-statehood

Equal Representation in Congress: Providing voting rights to the District of Columbia. (2008). In

Hearing before the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, United

States Senate, One Hundred Tenth Congress, First Session, May 15, 2007. Retrieved from

https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=pst.000065512500;view=1up;seq=1

German Lopez. (2016, November 8). 6 questions about Washington, DC, statehood you were

too disenfranchised to ask. Retrieved from Vox website:

https://www.vox.com/2014/11/12/7173895/dc-statehood-new-columbia

Kevin Lang. (2016, April 25). $26 Billion of Taxation without Representation. Retrieved from

District, Measured: Posts from the District of Columbia’s Office of Revenue Analysis

website: https://districtmeasured.com/2016/04/25/26-billion-of-taxation-without-

representation/

Maggie Baldridge. (2017, March 31). Should the District of Columbia become the 51st state?

Retrieved from National Constitution Center website:


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https://constitutioncenter.org/blog/should-the-district-of-columbia-become-the-51st-

state

Martin Austermuhle. (2013, May 31). D.C.’s Population Grows 79 Percent Every Workday,

Outpacing Other Cities. Retrieved from Wamu 88.5 American University Radio website:

https://wamu.org/story/13/05/31/dcs_population_grows_79_percent_every_workday_

outpacing_other_cities/

Quick Facts: District of Columbia. (n.d.). Retrieved from United States Census Bureau website:

https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/dc

Raven-Hansen, P. (1991). The Constitutionality of D.C. Statehood. George Washington Law

Review, 160.

Rebecca Hersher. (2016, November 9). D.C. Votes Overwhelmingly To Become 51st State.

Retrieved from NPR website: https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-

way/2016/11/09/501412360/d-c-votes-overwhelmingly-to-become-51st-state

Richards, M. D. (n.d.). 10 Myths about the District of Columbia. Retrieved from DC Vote

website: https://www.dcvote.org/10-myths-about-district-columbia

The History of Washington, DC. (n.d.). Retrieved from Washington, DC website:

https://washington.org/dc-information/washington-dc-history