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D.C. Board of Elections Reveals Concurrent Opinions on Budget Autonomy Decision

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Issa said he will continue to work for budget autonomy for D.C. from his post as chairman of the House Oversigh and Government Reform Committee.

With this hurdle cleared, it is nearly certain now that the budget autonomy charter referendum will be included on the special election ballot in April to proceed to a vote. But Curry’s and Danzansky’s disclosure about the lack of consensus on a number of sticking points surrounding the issue points to a rocky road ahead.

Budget autonomy would give the mayor and D.C. Council the authority to approve all local spending decisions and set a fiscal calendar that best suits the needs of the city. It also would free the District from the threat of a shutdown each time Congress nears a budget stalemate.

When Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the chairman of the D.C.-focused Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said he supported budget autonomy in the fall of 2011, other supporters emerged and mobilized around the issue.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton said she would vote for the charter amendment on the April ballot, but the Democrat has also expressed reservations about the legality of the measure and she continues to point to the rapidity with which the budget autonomy moment has caught on.

It was a year of stops and starts for budget autonomy legislation, however, as bills and drafts of bills were introduced and withdrawn under threats of being targeted with policy riders, such as restrictions on abortion funding and rollbacks of local gun laws.

Citing these setbacks, supporters of the referendum push say this is the only way to get budget autonomy without strings attached. Others wonder, though, if the intended two-pronged approach — to push budget autonomy on the ground while continuing to negotiate with House and Senate leadership with Norton as the main liaison — might backfire.

“The wishes of the people of the District of Columbia will never alienate me,” Issa said in an interview with CQ Roll Call last month. “It does undermine my ability to get for them what I believe they want ... because if it goes to a court challenge, as I am relatively sure it would, then it ties my hand until that’s over with, and that makes no sense.”

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