IN A REMARKABLY misguided vote recently, 11 members of the D.C. Council managed to undermine one of the most important and longstanding local efforts for more independence from federal control. In any other city, the action might not have meant much. But the council expressed its comtempt for a White House deadline for receipt of the city's 1981 budget. Ingoring a warning from their own chief lawyer, members postponed action on a budget request from the mayor until Jan. 22, thus missing a White House deadline today.
It isn't that this will automatically cost the city money -- at least not right away. But just when the city and the Carter administration are advocating changes that would free the District from line-by-line, House-and-then-Senate scrutiny and approval of the local budget, the council is tardy in approving one. To his credit, Council Chairman Arrington Dixon urged the members to act; only Betty Ann Kane joined in voting against postponement.
Though it's not clear whether the delay will affect White House transmittal of the budget to Congress, House and Senate members of the Appropriations committees are not likely to be all that receptive to moves aimed at curbing their fiscal authority over District spending. Still, the budget process is absurdly restrictive and cumbersome, and ought to be changed in spite of one council's mindless move. Members of Congress who understand this might remind their colleagues that at least the mayor and council recognize the city's responsibility to meet budget deadlines. Besides, if the District had the budget authority it seeks, there wouldn't be all those deadlines to meet. The only people to whom city hall would be responsible would be the voting taxpayers -- and that is what home rule is supposed to be about.