Alice Rivlin Offers Three Reasons for DC Statehood

In Senate testimony yesterday, Senior Fellow Alice Rivlin, the Leonard D. Schaeffer Chair in Health Policy Studies, offered three reasons why statehood for the District of Columbia “makes sense now.”

  1. It’s “a bizarre anomaly” that it isn’t.
    Rivlin argued that “DC citizens pay our taxes, serve in the armed forces, and if necessary make the ultimate sacrifice to defend democracy around the world. But here at home we cannot vote for full representation in the Congress of the United States. This is an inconvenient truth about America, which should be changed forthwith.”
  2. It’s a strange anachronism that it isn’t.
    Rivlin noted that in 1800, the population of the new federal district was about 8,000 people. “Most of the adults living in the District” at that time, she said, “would not have been eligible to vote by the standards of the day, because they were female, African American (both slave and free) or did not own property. The few voices protesting exclusion of the District from representation in the new Congress were easily ignored.”

    Today, Washington, DC is a city of over 640,000 people, larger than both Wyoming and Vermont, with a GDP larger than 16 states. “It is past time to bring the rights and responsibilities of DC citizens up to date,” Rivlin said.

  3. The District is fiscally viable.
    Rivlin recognized the recent history of the District’s fiscal problems, during which a “deteriorating tax base and fiscal mismanagement brought the city close to bankruptcy.” However, after the Clinton administration, along with Congress and DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, put a control board into place (which Rivlin chaired for its final three years, ending in 2001), the city’s finances turned around.

    DC “has balanced its budget every year for 17 years, made substantial investments in improving its schools and other services, built up a substantial balance in the general fund, and enjoyed high bond ratings,” Rivlin told the committee. “There is no longer any reason to worry that the District would not be a fiscally viable state.”

Rivlin finished her testimony by calling for Congress to do two things now pending further consideration of legislation admitting DC as a new state: grant the District budget autonomy, so that it is “able to spend its locally raised revenues to meet the needs of its citizens without delay or interference from Congress”; and to give the District’s member in the House of Representatives full voting rights.

Read the entire testimony here, and learn more about the hearing here.

Rivlin is also director of the Engelberg Center for Health Care Reform. From September 1998 to September 2001, she chaired the District of Columbia Financial Assistance and Management Authority (the “control board”).

See her earlier testimony on budget autonomy for DC and fiscal implications of DC statehood.