The 51-star flags lining Pennsylvania Avenue aim to bring attention to the District of Columbia's quest to become the 51st state. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)
The 51-star flags lining Pennsylvania Avenue aim to bring attention to the District of Columbia's quest to become the 51st state. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)

One of the main reasons District residents who favor statehood status fight for their cause has to do with paying federal taxes without the benefit of full voting representation in either chamber of Congress. 

“Many people throughout the country aren’t aware that District residents pay federal taxes but we have no vote on Capitol Hill,” said Josh Burch, founder of the advocacy group Neighbors United for DC Statehood. 

People who live in U.S. territories or possessions – the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, for example – do not pay federal taxes nor do they have full voting rights in the U.S. Congress.

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), who has represented the city in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1991, can vote in committees like other representatives. But she cannot cast a ballot for legislation on the House floor because she doesn’t represent a state. Throughout the years, she has noted that District residents continue to be assessed federal taxes while having limited input over how the money should be spent.

According to a Jan. 24 news release compiled by Norton’s office, District residents pay more federal taxes per capita than any state and more federal taxes overall than 21 states. In the District, a federal tax counter sits in front of the John A. Wilson Building in Northwest that reveals the amount D.C. residents pay in taxes to the national government, despite having no full voting representation in Congress.

To bring focus to and resolve the District’s long-standing complaint of “No Taxation Without Representation,” Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) introduced a bill in 2015, The No Taxation Without Representation Act, that would exempt city residents from paying federal income taxes. 

“After looking at the situation of U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico, Guam, or Samoa, I found that the residents there paid local taxes but none paid federal income tax,” Gohmert told a reporter with The Hill newspaper shortly after he introduced the bill. 

“It occurred to me after researching the situation still further that until, when, or if the citizens of Washington, D.C. have a full voting representative, they should not have any federal income tax to pay.”

A spokesperson for Norton responded to Gohmert’s legislation in the same April 2015 article.

“While the Congresswoman is sure Congressman Gohmert means well and she understands that cutting taxes is in keeping with his tax-cutting priorities, the best way for him and his congressional colleagues to do the right thing by the citizens of the District of Columbia is to cosponsor our bill, the New Columbia Admission Act, to make D.C. the 51st state,” the spokesperson, Ben Fritsch, said. 

“Only through statehood will D.C. residents have the full and equal rights of the citizens living in Congressman Gohmert’s home state of Texas,” he said. 

Nelson Rimensnyder, the Republican nominee for District delegate in the Nov. 8 general election, said at one time, Norton favored federal tax exemption for residents.

“Norton has filed bills calling for D.C. residents being exempted from paying federal taxes for years,” Rimensnyder said. “However, when Gohmert said he wanted to see D.C. residents exempted, she withdrew her bill. She could have had bipartisan support for D.C.’s exemption from paying federal taxes. As for me, I have long supported D.C. not paying federal taxes without voting rights in the Congress.”

Rimensnyder said he believes state-level jurisdictions should not be taxed without their consent.

“I am not advocating the territories pay federal taxes,” he said. “I think we need to get the message out about our situation. I think people will pick up on that and object to us being taxed without consent.”

Rimensnyder said if elected as the District’s delegate, he would introduce a bill similar to Gohmert’s. He would also introduce a constitutional amendment calling for a voting representative from the District in the House and a delegate in the U.S. Senate.

Burch, like most statehood advocates, rejects Rimensnyder’s approach, including his stand-alone bill advocating that District residents be exempted from paying federal taxes. He believes the District should be the 51st state of the Union.

“It is not fair that we are taxed without representation,” he said. “We are working to get the word out in the country that Washington is not just a place where lobbyists live and is corrupt but a city with vibrant neighborhoods such as Brookland, Hillcrest and Deanwood.”

“Sometimes people equate D.C. with Marion Barry with dog whistles and it is unfair to mischaracterize a city based on one person. Ninety-nine percent of District residents aren’t lobbyists or work in politics but are everyday people trying to make it.”

James Wright Jr.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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