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D.C. Budget Autonomy Advocates Celebrate New Law

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Norton, left, and Gray have been skeptical of the legal standing of a new law that unlinks the D.C. budget from the congressional appropriations process.

In addition to commemorating the new year, local activists on Wednesday celebrated a milestone in the District’s fight for budget autonomy. A new law initiated by an April ballot referendum unlinks the local budget from the congressional appropriations process. The law, which was supported by 83 percent of D.C. voters, went into effect at midnight Wednesday.

The law amends the city’s home rule charter, providing that any local budget act the D.C. Council passes will automatically become law after a 30-day congressional review, just like all other D.C. legislation.

“This is a milestone in our fight for self-determination that shows the power of the people still means something,” said DC Vote Executive Director Kimberly Perry. “The new law changes an illogical budget arrangement with Congress that allowed partisan battles at the federal level to prevent the District from spending local tax revenues on critical needs. Our elected D.C. leaders and residents deserve credit for moving to rescind this unjust process.”

DC Vote, DC Appleseed and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson led the charge to secure a spot for the referendum on the April ballot, and drum up voter support. Proponents point out that it will spare the District from federal government shutdowns, and allow the city to set its own fiscal calendar.

It passed a 35-day congressional review period in July without a challenge from Congress.

Local officials, including Mayor Vincent Gray and D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan, have expressed skepticism about the legal and constitutional standing of the law. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., continues to press Congress to enact a D.C. budget autonomy bill and continues to work with House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., to perfect the language of a bill that has passed his committee.

Appropriators in the House have all called the law’s standing into doubt. A report from the Republican majority of the committee, endorsed by Speaker John A. Boehner, said the committee “considers the recent referendum in the district as an expression of the opinion of the residents, only.”

Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., chairman of the appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over D.C., requested the Government Accountability Office provide its insight on whether the law is legally sound.

Crenshaw’s office confirmed Thursday that it is still waiting for the GAO’s opinion.

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