PRESIDENT OBAMA is following through on the promise made at the start of his second term to stand up for the rights of the people of the District of Columbia. The inclusion in his proposed budget of a legislative provision that would give the District control over its own dollars is a significant development. With momentum building for budget autonomy — D.C. residents are set to vote soon on a referendum on the issue — Congress should take note and take the steps necessary to give the District its legitimate rights.
The White House’s fiscal 2014 budget proposal contains a provision that would give the District permanent authority to spend its local funds without congressional approval and the ability to set its own fiscal year. The District is the only jurisdiction in the country that must wait for a federal appropriation before spending local revenue. As a consequence, its operations get entangled in federal funding disputes. The uncertainty results in higher borrowing rates for the District, impedes the implementation of new programs and complicates the functioning of government.
D.C. officials have fought for years for budget autonomy, generally viewing it as second in importance only to congressional voting representation. Tired of waiting for Congress to act, the D.C. Council has placed a referendum on the April 23 ballot that would amend the city charter to achieve budget autonomy. Questions about the legality of that approach have been raised, so the president’s move — providing an alternate pathway for clear congressional action — is welcome.
Mr. Obama, like former president George W. Bush before him, included statements of support for budget autonomy in prior budgets, but this is the first time a legislative provision has been included. “The president’s historic budget proposal not only amplifies his past public advocacy for D.C. equality,” said D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), “it takes it to an entirely new level.”
Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle — including Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who oversees the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform with jurisdiction over the District — have said they support budget autonomy. They should work with the president to make this right a reality for D.C. residents.