SUCH IS THE second-class status of D.C. residents that it is considered a big victory that the District will be able to spend its local tax dollars through next September.
Don’t get us wrong: we understand the importance of the city being immunized from the threat of another federal government shutdown. We applaud the tenacity of local officials who successfully pled the District’s case. But it is maddening that the nation’s capital must get on bended knee for a basic right — expenditure of its own tax dollars — that it is taken for granted by every state and locality in the nation.
Legislation approved this week by Congress and signed by President Obama to raise the debt ceiling and reopen the federal government contains a provision that allows D.C. to spend its own local funds regardless of possible future federal shutdowns during the 2014 fiscal year. Because its budget is tied to the federal appropriations process, the city becomes vulnerable when Congress is — as just occurred — at an impasse.
The D.C. measure, included in the bipartisan agreement brokered by Senate leaders, was hailed as a “historic first” by D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) who, along with Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), gave heightened visibility to the city’s plight by challenging Democratic opposition to uncoupling the city from the federal shutdown. Ms. Norton pointedly questioned Mr. Obama while Mr. Gray confronted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.)
It’s good that their efforts paid off, but the measure approved last week doesn’t go far enough. It doesn’t give the city lasting authority over the right to spend the roughly $6 billion it raises each year in local funds or to choose when its budget year should start.
A measure amending the city’s charter to allow local officials to spend these funds without a congressional appropriation was approved by voters this year but its legality has been questioned. It’s unclear what will happen when it goes into effect in January.
The best way to end that uncertainty is for Congress to enact legislation permanently giving D.C. the ability to spend its own money freely. If the parties were serious about their jockeying during the 16-day shutdown to present themselves as the District’s best friend, that shouldn’t be a problem.