Sunday, May 13, 2001

Rep. Connie Morella, chairman of the House oversight panel on the District, plans to hold a hearing next month on what, “if anything,” should replace the congressionally created D.C. Financial Responsibility and Management Assistance Authority, or control board, which is expected to fall into dormancy later this year. D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, Mayor Williams and D.C. Council Chairman Linda Cropp are understandably outraged. D.C. circa 2001 does not resemble D.C. circa 1991, and the immediate future looks even more promising. However, that does not mean there is no cause for serious deliberations.

The question is: What is Congress after? Is it truly concerned that the control board has unfinished business? Has it lost faith in Mayor Williams? Or, perhaps, is Congress still interested in a city manager form of governance for the nation´s capital?

There have been a few signs here and there that indicate all is not necessarily well in the District, but for the most part that´s politics. For example, the city´s property-tax laws need distilling, the health-care plan needs tweaking and true school choice and governance remain elusive. On the other hand, the fact that businesses and new taxpayers continue to want to call the District their new home is as good as any sign that quality of life has significantly improved since the heady 1990s.

If Congress really is concerned about the District´s future, then an advisory board makes little sense, and reconstituting a control board with all the powers and authority of the current board would be the only solution. After all, there is no point to a board that would stand as a mere shadow of its former self. If anything, a shadow control board could do little more than parlay with the District´s make-believe shadow congressional representatives. Congress ought not play that silly game.

Still, Mrs. Morella´s hearings might do some good. D.C. officials ought to relish the opportunity to provide Congress with substantial evidence that the District is indeed positioned to exercise its considerable home rule prerogatives without any control board advisory, shadow or otherwise. They should do this with pride in what has been accomplished and without fanfare and the usual references to statehood, commuter taxes and the Boston Tea Party.

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