ONE OF THE THINGS I wish we could all get over, now and forever, is comparison of Washington, D.C., with any other city. D.C. isn’t just a city. It has all the responsibilities, government departments, employees, and expenses of any state and county in addition to those of a city. Of course, there are a few exceptions; its court system is still federal.
Comparison with Chelsea, Mass., won’t work (“Apocalypse When?” 12/16/94). Presumably, Chelsea employees that were laid off could still file and receive unemployment checks (state government) and their children still went to school (probably county government). In D.C., those who will be laid off are those who perform these services. Added to this is the additional factor that D.C. residents are not the sole or main recipients of many of the services provided by their tax dollars. The same is true of other state governments, but D.C. lacks reciprocity rights that other states possess. In my 20-plus years of D.C. residency, and also 20-plus years as a D.C. government employee, I have yet to see a comparison that adequately factors in (or factors out) these problems.
So what is the solution? The problem isn’t going to be solved by just reducing D.C. government. Laying off thousands of workers is a stopgap measure and a potential boomerang.
The problem is regional. Those of us who owe our livelihood to D.C., regardless of where we sleep at night, must decide to work for the good of the city. The idea that you can come into D.C. just to make your little bag of money and sow your wild oats, but that you owe D.C. no more than the sales tax on the oats, needs to die. We need to tell our state and national politicians this. We have to stop picking each other’s pockets. We have to stop congratulating and voting for elected officials whose platforms center around slapping D.C. down. We have to start sharing income generated in D.C. through regional tax reciprocity, regional service provisions, and regional development. Who knows? We could provide a model for the overhaul of the American economy.
Geraldine Schepker-Wulff, Adams Morgan