DC Mayor to Detail Budget Plan to House Panel
||Associated Press News Service (AP)
||Tuesday, May 10, 2011
WASHINGTON (AP) - The congressional subcommittee that oversees the District of Columbia has called Mayor Vincent Gray to testify about his budget proposal, an unusual move that angered some D.C. leaders who say the city should be allowed to make its own spending decisions.
Gray and D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown will appear Thursday morning before a subcommittee of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Subcommittee chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., called the hearing to examine the long-term sustainability of the district's finances.
Congress must approve the district's budget, and before the spending plan is submitted to Congress, the district's chief financial officer must certify that it is balanced.
The district faces a $322 million shortfall for the coming fiscal year. Gray's $9.6 billion proposed budget for the coming fiscal year would close that gap with a mix of cuts and new taxes, but several council members, including Brown, have balked at the prospect of raising taxes on the city's wealthiest residents.
In 1995, Congress established a control board to oversee the district's finances after years of fiscal management woes. The control board was disbanded in 2001 but could return if the district fails to meet certain financial benchmarks. But Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi has authority over all such spending moves and has vowed that the control board will never return on his watch.
Nonetheless, the committee, now controlled by Republicans, raised the specter of the control board's return as a justification for calling the hearing.
"The return of the control board is something that nobody wants to see happen and does not benefit anybody, so it's always a concern," said Ali Ahmad, a spokesman for the committee.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat who has represented the district in Congress for 20 years, said she could not recall a hearing on the mayor's proposed budget and said the control board issue was a red herring.
"The district has had nothing but balanced budgets for years now," she said. "Our view is that the district ought to have budget autonomy."
Gray intends to make the case for budget autonomy during his testimony, a spokeswoman said.
The mayor was arrested last month outside the Capitol while protesting the federal budget deal as an intrusion on home rule. In addition to bringing back a school voucher program favored by Republicans, the deal prohibited the district from spending local taxpayer dollars on abortions for poor women.
Ilir Zherka, executive director of D.C. Vote, a nonpartisan group that lobbies for more independence for the district, said Thursday's hearing was another unwelcome intrusion into local affairs. The group was planning another protest on Capitol Hill Wednesday.
"We suspect they have ulterior motives in holding this hearing," Zherka said. "We'll see on Thursday what those are."
Gandhi will also testify Thursday, and he welcomes the opportunity to explain the district's financial management, spokesman David Umansky said. The other scheduled witnesses are Jim Dinegar, CEO of the D.C. Board of Trade; Matt Fabian, a consultant on municipal bonds; and Alice Rivlin, a Brookings Institution economist and the former chair of the control board.
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