D.C. and California: Consider New Costs in New State and State Split Discussions

On Monday, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee heard arguments for making the District of Columbia the 51st state. It was the first such hearing since 1993 and for the entire period, Americans have been divided on whether the explicit provision in the Constitution should be overwritten in favor of granting citizens of Washington, D.C. the same federal voting rights as folks in full-fledged states.

According to the Washington Post, the proposal would split the District into a sovereign state (New Columbia) and a smaller federal district (still called D.C.). NTUF surveyed D.C.-statehood legislation in an issue of The Taxpayer’s Tab last year; if what was spoken of in the hearing yesterday incorporates provisions included in the New Columbia Admission Act, federal spending could increase by $9 million annually (Source: CBO estimate for a 2007 D.C.-statehood bill* and Senate budgetary data). The new spending would result from the addition of two new Senators, along with making the D.C. Delegate position a regular Representative.**

New costs come not only from the officials’ salaries and benefits but their Representational Allowance as well. Each Member of Congress is given a specified amount of tax dollars for general office expenses, official travel, staff costs, and office-related mailings (otherwise known as “franking”). As of late 2013, Members received an average of $1.2 million each year with a minimum of $1.18 million and maximum of $1.4 million.

Taking this information into account, we can also determine some of the costs related to a recent proposal in California that would split the Golden State into six individual states. As outlined on Vox.com, the proposal’s architect, Timothy Draper, claims that the division will make government “more decentralized and responsive,” though it is hard to determine exactly what a California divorce would mean to taxpayers. The state’s $778 billion debt, including liabilities, would need to be allocated (one would think evenly among the population), and then there is the question of how assets will be split up, because some regions like Silicon Valley contribute more to California’s economy than others. This also is to gloss over some federal programs’ expenses, such as Medicaid, that are based on medium income and state-matching funding rates.

If the ballot measure were to pass (and the legal hurdles of getting state and federal legislators to approve the measure were satisfied), America would not just have 55 states but ten new Senators too. These ramifications would mean more representation for those already living there and, for accounting purposes, an increase in federal spending.

If we adjust the figures used to score the D.C.-statehood legislation, taxpayers would see a $15.3 million spending increase, once the Senators were elected and their offices established. This breaks down to $1.74 million in Member salaries (the average rank-and-file Senator receives $174K each year) and about $13.6 million in the total Representational Allowance. I used the higher cost for their Allowance as flying across the country costs more than a casual drive to Maryland or Delaware.

Just for kicks, Vox also wrote about dividing representation evenly among the U.S. population, making for an interesting looking map. However, this half-intellectual exercise, half-art project would likely not result in any long-term costs, aside from what would be a massive administrative and logistical transition (think of all the letterhead you’d have to change).

America was founded on representative government and the idea that everyone has a say in how their tax dollars are spent. This means that Draper can attempt to breakup California, or Delegate Norton can speak on the virtues of adding D.C. as a state, but both must realize that neither the job nor the new costs are over in victory.  America will still be facing a growing debt, partisan deadlock, and the entitlements house of cards with ten more or even ten fewer Senators.

* The District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act of 2007 called for a new Congressional seat for D.C. and an additional seat for the state of Utah, a response to it not gaining a Representative in the 2000 Census. It’s an interesting story.
** Just to be clear, the $9 million would be for the two New Columbian Senators. As per BillTally rules, the new Representative’s office expenses already exist (or would be a marginal increase) and so would not count as new spending.