The measure contains at least one policy rider — a ban on District government-funded abortions — considered onerous by city leaders, as well as the renewal of a controversial private-school voucher plan that has divided local officials. It could end up cutting from the city’s budget.
And the whole exercise served as a stark reminder that the District has precious little control over its finances.
“While I am relieved that Congress reached an agreement so that our employees can work and city services can continue, I am also angry and extremely disappointed that the District of Columbia, once again, suffered collateral damage amidst partisan bickering,” Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) said in a statement issued after the deal was completed.
Referring to the ban on the District using its own funds to provide abortion services and the renewal of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, Gray said that “the District of Columbia’s right to govern itself has, once again, been sacrificed on the altar of political expediency. This is ludicrous. Hypocrisy is alive and well.”
The final agreement could end up cutting from the federal government’s annual payments to the District; the version of the measure that passed the House in February cut about $80 million from D.C. courts, school improvements and other programs. The deal could also include a ban on the District using its own funds for needle-exchange programs.
Those details will be negotiated in the coming days by members of the House and Senate Appropriations committees.
The District has more budget autonomy now than it did as recently as a decade ago, when the congressionally mandated financial control board ruled the city’s pocketbook. Yet because even the District’s locally raised tax money has to be appropriated back to it by Congress, the city faced the prospect of having to curtail local government functions in the event of a shutdown.
As Gray put it, “no other state or jurisdiction had to endure the hardship of planning to shut down a municipal government, thus spending valuable resources and personnel on a process that never should have been necessary. The United States Congress ought to do what is morally right and grant the residents of the District of Columbia — who pay more than $5 billion in taxes annually — the right of full citizenship and budget autonomy.”
As the threat of a shutdown loomed larger on the horizon, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) tried repeatedly to persuade House Republican leaders to move her legislation that would have given the District the authority to spend its own money in the event of a shutdown.Rebuffed, she tried without success to attach the measure as an amendment to a series of unrelated bills.