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Are We Prepared for the Day After Statehood?

I support DC statehood. I recently attended a statehood advocacy training hosted by Neighbors United for DC Statehood and DC Vote. The session was in preparation for the organizations’ bi-annual “Congressional Education Day” on Feb. 27, when District residents will meet with the offices of new senators and representatives to educate them about DC statehood.

Not only did I attend, but I also had a minor role in the training. I spoke for a few minutes about how to customize the statehood message for Republicans. The energetic and enthusiastic group of volunteers reaffirmed my belief that DC should become a state.

I agree with Alexander Hamilton’s viewpoint that DC should gain representation, ‘statehood,’ once it reaches a critical mass. We have done so. Our population is now greater than two states. We pay more federal taxes than approximately 23 states.

While I am in the supermajority of District residents who support statehood, I am one of only 40,779 residents who voted against the November 2016 statehood. I voted ‘no,’ not because of the new state’s name, but for two more essential reasons.

First, we have largely ignored the fiscal impact of becoming a state. Statehood will bring significant expenses. “The District does not pay for or control our local court or prison system. With statehood, the new state would bear that responsibility,” as Josh Burch points out in a recent Washington Post column

Why does this matter?

Prisons and courts are not cheap. The federal government pays at least $700 million for the District’s criminal justice system. Congress has appropriated $367,945,000 for courts and $49,890,000 to Defender Services. In addition, approximately 6 percent of the annual budget for the US Attorneys Office is allocated to prosecute District crimes, which amounts to $126,300,000 this year alone. Moreover, the federal government houses 4,500 District inmates around the country for $99.45/day/inmate or a total of $163,346,625 annually.

When we secure statehood, from where will the almost one billion dollars for the District justice system come? District residents already pay more taxes than residents in most other states. How long will it take to devise and implement DC state criminal justice system? Surely, it won’t happen overnight.

Second, I am underwhelmed by the proposed DC Constitution. Why are we keeping the eight legislative districts? The growth of the District suggests they should both smaller and more numerous to ensure legislators are responsive to constituents.

Why keep partisan elections? With respect to electing legislators, Nebraska is currently the only state with a unicameral legislature. It is nonpartisan and works overwhelmingly well. In addition, more Americans are identifying as unaffiliated than ever before.

Why continue the charade of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions? If the DC Council becomes the state legislature, shouldn’t the ANC commissioners become our city’s legislators? Shouldn’t they be compensated as such? It’s ridiculous they aren’t currently being paid. Why double down on a flawed system? City councilmembers should be more than just part-time voluntaries.

In the absence of a plan for a state criminal justice system and lack of a legislative system that allows for the local autonomy and full representation, we are ill prepared for statehood. So, while continuing the work of national advocacy, we must prepare for the day after DC becomes a state.

If you like what you read, hate what you read, or want to hear about a specific issue, please let me know. Until next time. Michael Bekesha has been a Ward 6 resident since 2010. He ran for the Ward 6 Council seat in November 2018. He, his wife Holly, and their rescue dog Sprocket live in Navy Yard. He identifies as an Urban Republican. He may be reached by email or on Twitter.

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