MS. REBECCA SHEIR
So as we just heard, many of the people supporting D.C. tattoos also feel pretty strongly about the city's rather unusual standing in Congress. As we know, the district is represented by a delegate in the House of Representatives. These days, of course, it's Eleanor Holmes Norton, but she doesn't have all the powers of a full member of Congress. And over in the Senate, well, D.C. doesn't have any representation there at all.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
It's a situation many visitors and newcomers learn about when they see those taxation without representation license plates all over the city. Earlier this spring, some members of the city council tried to ratchet up the calls for full representation. You might remember when Mayor Vincent Gray was taken away in handcuffs in a symbolic arrest back in April. Well, here we are two months later and Congress and the city council have both seemingly moved on to other business.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Two worlds moving in similar, yet separate, orbits. On a recent windy morning, I went to the Wilson Building, city council headquarters, basically, down on Pennsylvania Avenue, where I met up with WAMU D.C. reporter, Patrick Madden. We stood outside and chatted about the perennial political battle between Washington and D.C. and what it means for those of us who live in the city.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
I kick things off by asking Patrick about D.C. voting rights and where those rights stand right now.
MR. PATRICK MADDEN
I think the term is dead in the water or dead on arrival. There's absolutely nothing going on in terms of voting rights. And the main reason for this is essentially who's in Congress right now. I mean, in 2008, you had a democratic President, democratic House of Representatives and you had a democratic controlled Senate that was filibuster proof. And if they couldn't pass a voting rights issue for the District then, there is no way they are going to pass it now with republicans controlling the House, with all the different issues that they are fighting over the debt ceiling, blah, blah, blah. The plight of District residents is low on the list for concerns in Congress right now.
But looking at all the efforts to get voting rights in Congress, the lobbying, the arrests, you know, the license plates, taxation without representation, what impact do you think it's all had at the end of the day? You said the issue is dead on arrival now, but up to this point, I mean, do you think progress has been made?
Some progress has been made. I mean, it's -- you're almost fighting these two fights. One, you just want to raise awareness about the issue. And any time you have, you know, an arrest that makes the nightly news or you have a license plate that President Bill Clinton put on -- although President Obama has not put the license plate on his ride so that's become a point of contention.
So on one hand, they are still raising awareness and that's sort of the outside game. But the inside game is dealing with, you know, creating relationships with members of Congress, almost being a lobbyist. You know, you have to go in and work behind closed doors. That has not happened and without the inside game, it doesn't matter.
You mentioned the license plate that Bill Clinton started. Here we are by the pretty famous sign, D.C. residents federal tax dollars paid, right outside the Wilson building. Right now, a red message is flashing across. It says, "Support D.C. statehood," and then we have a ticker of numbers. Can you talk about what this sign is all about?
Right. So this ticker, it's sort of similar to -- if you've ever been in New York and you've seen that deficit number that keeps growing and it keeps ticking, well, this -- in D.C., this number -- and it keeps going up. Right now, it says about $1.8 billion. This is the amount of federal taxes D.C. residents have paid this year. And so the point is pretty clear, hey, we're paying a boat load of money and yet we are getting absolutely no representation on Congress.
And what it really is supposed to do is, every time you have tourists walking by here -- and we've seen a couple go by. They go, hey, Dad, what's that right there? And then they probably don't have a clue unless you wait for the entire thing to roll by. But it says, "Mr. President, demand D.C. voting rights." So again, trying to raise awareness about the issue, trying to especially reach tourists and folks so they can bring the message to their respective states.
Right back across the country.
But another interesting point, this is a little more wonky, if the District became a state, it would actually have to assume a lot of responsibilities that it doesn't right now. For example, basically, its prison system, its courts, a lot of this other stuff is paid for by the federal government. And that's sort of why it's also treated as a federal agency. That's why it gets wrapped up in these budget negotiations.
So if the District were to become a state, it would cost a lot of money, money that it doesn't have right now. And the other side of the argument is every other state in the country is allowed to tax people that work in the city. And so 70 percent of people that work in D.C. actually live in Maryland, Virginia or West Virginia or elsewhere. So there is a huge chunk of change the District government, basically, can't touch.
And there are also a lot of federal government buildings and non-profit buildings that do not pay any real estate. And so all of this creates what people a lot more smarter than me call sort of a structural deficit for the District, something to the tune of, like, a billion dollars a year. So when you talk about D.C. becoming a state, it's not as easy as just having Congress sort of get together and vote on this thing. There are a lot of, actually, serious issues that need to be worked out.
Well, Patrick Madden, thank you so much for coming down here and talking with us today.
No problem, this was fun.
That was WAMU D.C. reporter Patrick Madden, talking with me outside the Wilson building in downtown D.C. And, of course, if you have an opinion on whether D.C. should become a state or about our fair city's relationship with Congress, send us an email, our address is email@example.com.
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