We should use Steny Hoyer’s remarks, as reported by the Washington Post, about a commuter tax in the District as a teachable moment for those of us who believe that Statehood is our ultimate destiny because this so-called friend of the District certainly shed some light which makes him look more like a foe. It should give us pause to ponder who our real friends really are. Here are a few reasons why he seems to be more foe than friend (and as a native Washingtonian whose family roots are from Charles County it gives me no pleasure to trash him, but he deserves it):
• Ignorance: Steny claims that the District is funded by the American people which is blatantly false. 75% of the District’s budget is raised from local tax dollars while the other 25% comes from the federal government. Yes, we get federal dollars but so does everyone else, such as Maryland which gets 18% of its state budget from the federal government. The District gets less federal money as a percent of our overall budget than 5 other states. We might be a federal District but we’re supporting ourselves even with the burden of having 40% of our land be non-taxable.
• Hypocrisy: Time and time again, Steny and many others in the Democratic Party lambast Republicans for trying to impose social policy riders on DC budget bills. It’s just as bad, in my opinion to impose a policy on us as it is to deny us the ability to create our own laws or taxes. Steny must somehow think his brand of colonial mastery is better than that of Trent Franks or Rand Paul but it isn’t. If he will use his congressional power to unduly influence policies of the District he’s just as bad because he too sees it politically expedient to pick on the District.
• The Veil of the Party: Steny, in his heart, believes the Democrats are better for the District than the Republicans, but how so? For 212 years no party has delivered full and equal citizenship rights to us so why should we trust Steny Hoyer or Eric Cantor? Members of Congress act in their self-interest and look out for their district, not the people of the District, first and foremost which is precisely why we need to be a State. (On this same note it will be interesting to see if either Party includes support for DC Statehood in their Party Platforms which will be a telling sign of true support for the District).
• Voting Rights: Steny and others on the Hill like to say ‘oh, we’re all for voting rights for the District.’ Which sounds nice but it still means that we would have lesser national representation and limited control over our budget as in H.R. 267, or equal representation but still no control over our budget as in H.R. 266. We don’t want voting rights, we don’t want continued inequality just because a few folks think it’s a catchy slogan and can fundraise off of it. We’re tired of Steny’s paternalistic tendencies and those of his party mates. We want equality and we want Statehood (H.R. 265).
• Statehood: Although Steny was specifically talking about the ‘commuter tax’ were it to happen today, I take from his words a general fear of statehood because then we would have the power to impose a commuter tax with the need for congressional approval. What Steny fails to consider is that first, there would still be a federal district that New Columbia would have no authority over where many of his constituents would work thus they wouldn’t be taxed. Second, just as Maryland and Virginia have non-resident income taxes they exempt neighboring States and the District to ensure friendly economic relations. Although the District should have the right to impose a commuter tax (or more importantly get a set federal payment as we once did) it might not be in our economic interest if businesses move out of town. But, it should be our right to decide our own tax policies just as Maryland chose to set up toll booths to pay for roadways around the state. (It’s worth noting that heis not a cosponsor of the current DC Statehood Bill and voted against the last Statehood Bill before the House, H.R. 51 in 1993)
• My Daughter: What hurts most and is most upsetting about Steny’s revealing statements about the District is it says to me: “Josh, your daughter, that sweet and happy 19 month old doesn’t deserve the same civil and political rights of a girl born in Waldorf, Md.” It says to me “Josh, your daughter does not deserve equality because my citizens shouldn’t pay taxes in a state/district where they work.” Steny is telling us that he has the power, with his Congressional colleagues, to continue to have two Americas separate and unequal, simply because Virginians and Marylanders don’t want to pay taxes on their income in the District/state where they earn it. That line of thinking is more than selfish, it’s uncivil, and it’s un-American.
I thought Rand Paul and Trent Franks kicking us around a few weeks ago was bad but it definitely hurts a good bit more when your so-called friend turns on you. What sadly just came to my head was Julius Caesar who famously said, “Et tu, Brute?”