If Washington were given back to Maryland

March 12, 1997|By Lawrence H. Mirel

WASHINGTON -- Why would Maryland want to take back the District of Columbia? For lots of very compelling reasons.

First, let's look at the positive side. The District of Columbia is a prize. Its residents still have the highest per-capita income in the nation. (That's right; higher than Maryland and every other state). It is the economic engine for the entire region. Thousands of Marylanders commute every day to well-paid jobs in the District, bringing back substantial tax revenue to the state.

It is also a world-class city, an international media center, a major financial center, a transportation hub, one of the great centers in the world for art and entertainment, for museums and theater.

Most of all, it is the capital city of the United States, the home of the most powerful government on earth, and the center of many international activities. It is a worldwide magnet for tourists, who come by the millions to visit the museums, the government buildings, the White House and the Capitol.

Any state would be fortunate to have Washington, capital of the United States -- capital of the world -- within its borders. But Maryland has the strongest claim; Washington is on land ceded by Maryland to the federal government. Virginia reclaimed its portion of the original District in 1846, now the economically important county of Arlington and city of Alexandria. Reuniting Washington with Maryland would create a dynamic economic center for the state and for the region, focused on the Baltimore-Washington corridor.

But there are other, self-protective reasons for Maryland to reclaim the District. Maryland's economic health is dependent on the District of Columbia. If the District continues its current precipitous decline, Maryland has a great deal to lose.

If the city of Washington cannot provide decent services to its citizens and its businesses, they will continue to flee, taking wealth and jobs with them, wealth and jobs that now benefit the people and enrich the coffers of Maryland. Some of this wealth will come to Maryland, of course, but much of it will keep moving on to states like North Carolina, Florida and Arizona.

Meanwhile poor and needy people living in Washington -- the usual reason given for Maryland's wariness about taking back the District -- are going to be Maryland's problem anyway. If Washington cannot provide adequately for its poor population -- and substantial cutbacks in city services have already occurred -- many of those people will move to Maryland, bringing crime and social needs to Prince George's, Montgomery and other Maryland jurisdictions. The process has already begun.

Would there be a net benefit to Maryland from having Washington as a city in the state? Absolutely. It would give the state an enormous asset in the increasingly competitive drive for national and international business. It would give the state a tourist attraction second to none in the world. It would put a major regional market within the borders of the state.

The airport story

Want proof? Look at Baltimore's airport. When it was called ''Friendship'' nobody used it. Changed to ''Baltimore-Washington International,'' it has become a major destination for travelers from all over the world. Bringing Washington into Maryland will make the entire region ''Baltimore-Washington-International.''

The process of reintegrating Washington, as a home-rule jurisdiction, into the state-government structure of Maryland would not be without difficulties. But with careful planning, problems can be worked out satisfactorily.

Now is the time to look at reunion. The president has recognized that the District government cannot handle the state functions with which it has been saddled because it is not part of any state. His plan calls for the federal government to pick up those responsibilities.

It would make much more sense for Maryland to do so. Maryland is likely to end up paying the costs in any event. Again the idea of imposing a payroll tax on non-residents who work in the District is being openly discussed in Congress. How much better it would be economically for Maryland to become the state for the city of Washington, thereby keeping the taxes earned by Maryland residents there and picking up the taxes paid by the affluent residents of the District.

Reunion is not a new idea. It has been talked about since the District was carved out of Maryland territory in 1800. Former Gov. William Donald Schaefer endorsed the idea because he saw the advantage it would give the state in the world market. Today's state leaders need the same vision. Reuniting Washington with Maryland would create a powerful and wealthy state that would dominate economic development in the mid-Atlantic region.

Lawrence H. Mirel is president of the Committee for the Capital City. He is an attorney and former general counsel to the Council of the District of Columbia.

Pub Date: 3/12/97

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