What's D.C. statehood worth? That question was at the heart of a D.C. Council hearing today on a bill that would put $1.1 million annually towards the fight to make D.C. the union's 51st state.
Currently, the city's three-person shadow delegation—one representative and two senators charged with fighting for the 51st star—toil in relative anonymity, working with no staff and few resources. But under the provisions of the bill, each member would paid $35,000 a year, and their offices would each receive $150,000 to be split among staffing and programming.
The bill would also set aside $550,000 for the D.C. Council to use annually for lobbying and public relations efforts related to the fight for statehood.
Statehood advocates say that the money would demonstrate the city's commitment to statehood, especially when a bill that would grant D.C. statehood is before both the House of Representatives and Senate.
"There's only one multi-billion dollar organization in D.C. with 600,000 members that's not lobbying Congress, and that's D.C.," said Nate Bennett-Fleming, the city's shadow representative.
Should the bill pass, it would mark a reversal of fortunes for the statehood cause. Until 2008 Congress prohibited D.C. from spending any money on lobbying or advocacy for voting rights or statehood, and since that prohibition was lifted the city has offered only meager grants to organizations fighting for both.
D.C. officials have also shied away from pushing statehood in recent years, opting instead for limited goals of a voting seat in the House and budget autonomy. At a recent event in the U.S. Capitol, though, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced his support for a statehood bill introduced earlier this year.
"At some point, you need to invest resources if you want to get the job done," said Paul Strauss, one of the city's two shadow senators.