Friday, May 13, 2016
Media Source: 
Washington City Paper (DC)
Andrew Giambrone

Surprise! After holding a hearing on the subject on Thursday, House Republicans are trying to overturn D.C.'s budget autonomy through legislation that would essentially repeal a 2013 referendum where more than 80 percent of residents voted for local fiscal independence.

The three-page bill—couched in terms of "clarifying" Congress' intent in 1973, when it provided the District limited "Home Rule"—seeks to curb D.C.'s ability to control its own purse. Congress still has final say ("supreme authority") over these decisions, but after a court decision in March, it must affirmatively act to amend items in the District's budget. Or so advocates for the nation's capital have argued, including at yesterday's hearing.

"It is indisputably the law of the District of Columbia," attorney Brian Netter, who has supported the validity of the referendum, testified on the Hill. He noted that the window to appeal the D.C. Superior Court decision had lapsed.

The contentious hearing was held by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which watches over District affairs. In a statement, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton said she expected a challenge to budget autonomy.

“It is clear that our committee had planned to mark up a bill to repeal the Local Budget Autonomy Act, passed by D.C. voters and upheld in court, even before today’s hearing and regardless of what the witnesses explained,” she said.  “Although a party-line vote on the repeal bill is expected in committee next week, and eventually on the House floor, we do not expect the Senate to take up the bill. Instead, House Republicans will have to turn once again to the appropriations process to repeal the BAA.”

The legislation comes as the District has launched a renewed push to become the 51st state. Last Friday, D.C. leaders released a draft constitution outlining what such a state would look like. The public can comment on it before a June convention, scheduled for the 17th and 18th.