Feb. 14, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

D.C. Budget Autonomy Referendum Hinges on GAO Opinion

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Crenshaw said he requested that the GAO examine D.C.’s budget autonomy referendum and expects an opinion to be delivered by November or December.

Rather than jumping on the chance to begin implementing the budget autonomy referendum that is law effective Jan. 1, Mayor Vincent Gray maintains that the District needs clarity from Congress on its path toward fiscal freedom.

He’s looking to the Government Accountability Office for insight into whether the charter amendment approved by 83 percent of D.C. voters in April is legally sound, discounting the opinion of D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and local organizations advocating for increased autonomy that the city has the authority to proceed.

“I think that there are people who are dubious about this, and that includes me. I hardly supported going forward with it,” said Gray, who reluctantly signed the legislation in late 2012. “I voted for it hardly myself, but at the same time, I’m very skeptical about whether this in fact will become the pathway to budget autonomy for us.”

Instead, he has opted to publicly pressure his allies on Capitol Hill to move their own proposals, while backing away from implementation.

Referendum supporters, including DC Vote, strongly support efforts to move a budget autonomy bill through Congress.

“Meanwhile, though, the budget autonomy amendment passed by the residents of the District is the law,” Kim Perry, executive director of the pro-statehood group, said in a statement. “It became the law when it cleared congressional review. On that day, it became ‘an Act of Congress.’ Congress also had other opportunities to reject D.C.’s new budget law. And, unless and until it is amended, it not only entitles, but requires, District officials to follow it.”

D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan has warned that the referendum may exceed the city’s power under the Home Rule Act and the city may risk violating federal law. House Republicans also believe the approach lacks legal muster, though they did not move legislation to halt it during Congress’ 35-day legislative review period.

Days after the referendum crossed its congressional finish line, the GAO received a request to examine it. Attorneys in the Appropriations Law division have since been working on a legal opinion.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw told CQ Roll Call that he requested the GAO examine the referendum and expects an opinion to be delivered by November or December.

The Florida Republican holds the top spot on the House Appropriations Financial Services Subcommittee that oversees the annual appropriation that gives D.C. the authority to spend approximately $6 billion in locally raised revenue and ensures the availability of grants and federal benefit payments.

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