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Voters Pass D.C.'s Budget Autonomy Referendum, Many Ask 'Now What?'

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Norton and other D.C. officials were not wild about the budget referendum included on Tuesday’s special election ballot. The measure passed with 83 percent of the vote.

Since the grass-roots push to obtain budget control began and councilmembers expressed their support for putting a charter amendment before voters, some skeptics, including Mayor Vincent Gray and D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan, have wondered whether the initiative would pass constitutional and legal muster.

They and others have also wondered whether the referendum would override the work of congressional lawmakers over the past year and a half to pass a formal budget autonomy bill through Congress, an effort spearheaded by Issa.

Issa told CQ Roll Call on Wednesday that a budget autonomy bill was almost ready to move through the legislative pipeline, but he didn’t specify whether it still contained language that had derailed previous iterations: a ban on local funding for abortions.

He insisted that the bill would receive city officials’ support and win the president’s signature, so the District would no longer have to worry about the uncertainty surrounding the referendum.

“The mayor won’t risk changing [the city’s] budget. He will be advised to wait, and if he is forced to go forward, undoubtedly he’d face legal challenges,” Issa predicted.

Issa also said that Congress, with its power over the District, could simply insert a rider into any piece of must-pass legislation that would simply invalidate the referendum entirely, though Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., said in a statement she hasn’t seen any concerted effort yet on that front.

Mendelson, in an interview with CQ Roll Call, said he was hopeful for a happy ending.

“I view the referendum as pushing the ball along,” he said. “I’m perfectly fine with Congress stepping in and trying to do something affirmatively. Part of the next step is continuing conversations with various representatives and ... next year, preparing our own budget.”

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