District officials found a piece of good news in President Obama’s fiscal 2013 budget submission Monday, praising the White House for including a call for the city to gain a measure of fiscal autonomy.
“Consistent with the principle of home rule, it is the Administration’s view that the District’s local budget should be authorized to take effect without a separate annual Federal appropriations bill,” Obama’s submission says, adding that he “will work with Congress and the Mayor to pass legislation to amend the D.C. Home Rule Act to provide the District with local budget autonomy.”
Calls for the District to be able to spend its own money without waiting for congressional approval have intensified in the past year as the threat of a federal government shutdown put some of D.C.’s government operations in peril.
At a chilly news conference outside the Wilson Building on Monday, Mayor Vincent Gray called Obama’s language “a huge step forward ... in advancing our cause.”
But that optimism was tempered by a desire for more. D.C. Vote head Ilir Zherka emphasized that “all of us need to understand, that language is not enough.” And shadow Sen. Paul Strauss called Obama’s submission “an installment payment on the pledges that the president has made.”
Standing in front of a digital sign showing the amount of tax revenue District residents have paid to the federal government, Strauss recalled that in the late ’90s, the federal government had a budget surplus even as the District ran large deficits. Now, he noted, the deficit-ridden federal government oversees a city “that continues to have surplus after surplus.”
Asked whether he wanted Obama to back D.C. statehood, Gray said, “Absolutely. ... We want to see him as active and aggressive as he possibly can be on this issue.”
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who did not attend Monday’s news conference, said in a release that by including the autonomy language in his budget, Obama was keeping a promise he made to her personally before last month’s Martin Luther King Jr. day concert at the Kennedy Center.
A bill from House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) that would give D.C. the authority to spend its own money without waiting for congressional approval was rejected by District leaders in November because the measure included a ban on city-funded abortions. Issa said he would keep working to find a compromise on the issue.