A new national survey from the District’s primary advocacy group shows large majorities of Americans back the concept of budget autonomy for the city.
The poll was released by DC Vote on D.C. Emancipation Day, the 150th anniversary of slaves in the District being granted their freedom, and as advocates for the city believe momentum may be building on Capitol Hill to grant D.C. more fiscal flexibility. It also comes just after the one-year anniversary of District Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and several Council members being arrested while protesting the imposition by Congress of a ban on locally-funded abortions.
The poll, conducted by the firm Purple Strategies, finds that 71 percent of U.S. adults agree with the statement that District budget decisions should be made by the the city’s taxpayers and elected officials, while 23 percent think those decisions should be made by Congress.
The survey also shows that 78 percent of Americans believe Congress “should not interfere in the city’s local affairs and budget” by ”withholding approval of [the] local budget unless the city agrees to a series of unrelated provisions on issues related to guns and abortion.” (The wording of that question — particularly “interfere” and “unrelated provisions” — could be seen as pointing respondents toward one side of the argument.)
“This poll shows that Americans reject the long-held practice by some members of Congress of dictating how DC tax dollars should be spent,” DC Vote head Ilir Zherka said in a news release accompanying the poll results. “Congressional efforts to hold DC’s budget hostage, and the current law that treats DC like any other federal agency for budget purposes, are clearly out of step with the beliefs of the American people.”
DC Vote released the poll ahead of Tuesday’s “advocacy day,” during which the group’s activists will fan out on Capitol Hill to urge lawmakers to support budget autonomy. The event will kick off with a breakfast at the United Methodist Building on Maryland Avenue Northeast, featuring Gray and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D).
House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) offered a bill in November that would allow the District to begin spending its own money once the Council and the mayor have agreed on a budget, without waiting for congressional approval. But local officials opposed the measure because it also included a permanent ban on city-funded abortions.
Issa said he would keep working on the issue, and in February Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell (R) helped inject new life into the discussion by informing Issa and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) that he supports budget autonomy for the District. Cantor’s office subsequently told the Washington Post editorial board that he was “willing to work with the District toward its goal of budget autonomy. . . and he remains hopeful that there will be more flexibility by the District to find a path forward on this issue.”