With So Many Rural States, It’s Time For An Urban One

In a post primarily focused on just how crazy the U.S. Senate is designed, Dylan Matthews notes the following (boldface mine):

In the case of Reynolds v. Sims in 1964, the Supreme Court ruled that all state legislature districts have to have roughly equal populations, because the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment enshrines a principle of “one man, one vote.” That means that an institution like the US Senate, with wildly unequal populations in its various “districts,” cannot exist at the state level — at least not anymore.

The rapid changes Reynolds imposed on the structure of many state governments gives us an interesting opportunity to study what kinds of changes we might expect were the US Senate ever to be replaced with a more representative institution (or abolished outright). The evidence suggests that the malapportionment of the Senate is, in fact, a big deal that probably leads the federal government to spend substantially more in places like Wyoming and Vermont and substantially less in places like California and Texas than would otherwise be the case

The researchers track how state transfers to local governments changed after legislative districts were equalized. They confirmed previous findings that the overall level of spending didn’t increase much. But the distribution of spending definitely did:

In the most underrepresented counties … equal votes increased state revenues by $90 per person per year. In the most overrepresented counties, equalization of state legislative populations reduced revenues transferred from the state by $270 per person per year. The cumulative effect was to shift approximately $7 billion annually toward counties that had been underrepresented prior to the imposition of one-person, one vote.

…Of course, the US Senate still has the kind of inequities that used to plague state legislatures. Wyoming’s voters have about 66 times as much say in the Senate as California’s voters. What this research implies is that if the Senate were suddenly abolished, or if it became proportional, like the US House, there’d be a big transfer of resources from tiny rural states that currently wield far too much power in the body to big, urban states that are currently getting screwed. And given that those big, urban states tend to be more diverse than the tiny rural states, the shift would be a win for racial equality as well.

If you’re a progressive, liberal, leftie, what have you, you probably favor pro-urban policies such as mass transit. You’ll note that most of the ‘little’ states are either a combination of urban, suburban, and rural, or mostly rural. In addition, states that are often that are often associated with ‘urbanity’ such as New York also have considerable rural/exurban areas. In other words, there are no states dominated by urban concerns.

If D.C. were granted statehood or meaningful Congressional representation, that would be a huge advantage for progressives et alia. There are so many senators who represent rural concerns, often to the exclusion of the few urban areas in their states (which tend to vote Democratic and thus are basically told to go fuck themselves). A couple of urban senators–who would care about things like mass transit, expensive housing and the like–could really help the left-leaning agenda.

Not that Republicans will let this happen, but maybe Democrats need to start taking D.C. statehood more seriously, as it could really help on the policy front.

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1 Response to With So Many Rural States, It’s Time For An Urban One

  1. Gingerbaker says:

    The U.S. Congress already has a equal-representative entity – the House, doesn’t it?

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