Senate panel focuses on giving D.C. a bigger say but without statehood

August 05, 1994|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Proponents of statehood for the District of Columbia got a rare Senate hearing yesterday but were frustrated that the focus was on giving more representation to the city's residents rather than on creation of a 51st state.

Eager as supporters of statehood were to make their case that the district should become the new state of New Columbia, with two senators and a member of the House, they criticized the scope of the hearings for diluting their cause with ideas they deemed impractical, unfair and undemocratic.

"It is too late in the century to require Americans to beg for their rights," said Eleanor Holmes Norton, a delegate from the district whose vote in the House of Representatives counts only on issues decided by a margin of more than five votes.

Ms. Norton said district residents bear all the burdens of citizenship without the privileges and called the lack of the franchise "the single most serious and deliberate denial of civil rights today."

Supporters of statehood say the city's residents pay federal taxes and serve in the military but are not given a voice in Congress.

Witnesses also pointed out:

* The district sends more tax revenues to the Treasury than nine states.

* More residents of the district were killed in the Vietnam War than those of 10 states.

* Its population is greater than that of three existing states.

* It operates welfare and other social services as well as a prison system.

Further, they say the limited home-rule status granted the district in 1973 maintains a kind of plantation atmosphere over the district's citizens, almost 70 percent of whom are black.

Governed by an elected mayor and 13-member City Council, the District of Columbia has the right to raise taxes, but Congress must approve its budget and can override any of the city's actions.

Congress also prevents the city from collecting income tax from people who work in the district and live elsewhere; the president appoints local judges, whom the district pays.

Witnesses before the Committee on Governmental Affairs, most of whom supported statehood, spoke against alternatives, such as allowing the city's 600,000 residents to vote in other states or returning the district to Maryland.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson scoffed at the idea of returning the district to Maryland.

"The same people who don't want to invade Haiti for democracy want to invade Maryland," said Mr. Jackson, who is the non-voting, shadow senator for the district.

Kevin P. Chavous, a member of the district's City Council, said that residents had voted for statehood, not affiliation with Maryland, and that Maryland desired it even less.

A recent survey found that only seven of 189 Maryland state legislators supported retrocession.

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