Congress finds D.C. budget autonomy referendum has no legal effect
Although more than 80 percent of D.C. residents voted in support of the “budget autonomy” measure in an April referendum, the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ investigative agency, has stated that this latest attempt to gain increased independence from Capitol Hill is not legal.
The measure, which would allow the District to spend local tax revenue without a congressional appropriation, has been backed by voting-rights activists trying to win more rights for the city without wading into the mess that is Congress. In the wake of last fall’s federal shutdown and its effects on the city, many are pushing for a budget autonomy law that would allow D.C. to set its own fiscal year and continue normal operations even when the federal government does not.
Susan A. Poling, the GAO’s general council, however, told the Washington Post that the parts of the proposal “that purport to change the federal government’s role in the District’s budget process are without legal force or effect,” and that the District government must act within the limits of the Home Rule Act.
Although the GAO is well-respected in Congress, “they have no legal effect,” Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) told the Post. According to Kimberly Perry, executive director of the nonprofit group D.C. Vote, only a court ruling or an act of Congress signed by the president could reverse the measure. In the absence of such a ruling, she said she expects local officials to move forward with implementing the law.
Although nearly all District leaders and congressional Democrats, as well as some Republicans, have expressed support for pushing a budget autonomy law through Congress, House Republicans have been skeptical of the measure. It has been kept from final passage by Republican attempts to attach measures concerning city laws on abortion, gun control, and other issues.
Congressmen like Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK), on the other hand, are ready to bring the legislation to vote. “The faster we do this, to be frank with you, is one less thing that Congress has to meddle in that we don’t need to meddle in,” he told the Post.
Photo: Zoe Rudisill via Flick