Not too long ago, the District of Columbia was clamoring for statehood. Now, it would have a hard time making a case for remaining an autonomous district.
Washington, D.C., has become an embarrassment to the rest of the nation. City coffers are $722 million in the red, according to the latest estimates. Crime is rampant. More than 12 percent of the city's residents are on welfare. More than 60 percent of the people who earn incomes within city limits live elsewhere.Wall Street took one look at the situation last week, as well as at Mayor Marion Barry's plan to let Congress pick up the tab, and downgraded the city's bonds to junk status.
That's hardly the stuff of a major world capital. Unfortunately, this mess probably will end up costing all U.S. taxpayers.
Washington has a long history of struggling for its own identity and independence, usually with little success, but this problem has little to do with the awkward arrangement of a district that houses the federal government.
It has everything to do with mismanagement.
The last time a financial crisis hit, the year was 1873 and the city was reeling from a Civil War that had left streets battered from cannons being dragged through town. Tens of thousands of refugees and newly freed slaves were pouring into the city.
That year, the district's government ran up $19 million in debts against a yearly budget of $10 million. Congress was so incensed by the district's corruption and financial ruin that it took control of the district and didn't allow any elected representation for the next 100 years.
This time, the district can't point to a Civil War as the source of its problems. But it can point to Barry, the mayor who was re-elected despite having to leave office in 1990 on a drug conviction, and to former Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly. They are responsible for most of the lavish expenditures and generous payrolls that have ruined city coffers.
A century ago, Americans were talking about moving the capitol to St. Louis. No one is making that suggestion now.
But this crisis should finally put to rest the notion of the District of Columbia as a state.