McDonnell backs D.C. budget autonomy
||Washington Times (DC)
||Wednesday, February 22, 2012
||Tom Howell Jr.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has thrown his support behind a proposal to allow the District to spend its local funds without tying the process to congressional budget bills, citing the risk of disruptions to services in the nation's capital in the event of a federal government shutdown.
Mr. McDonnell aired his opinions in a letter to Rep. Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican who serves as the House majority leader, and to Rep. Darrell E. Issa, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform who has vowed to form legislation that grants the District more budget autonomy."
As a follow-up to our conversations, I am writing to offer my support for Chairman Issa's initiative to give the District of Columbia certain budget autonomy over its own budget," Mr. McDonnell said in the letter obtained by The Washington Times on Wednesday. "It's what the governors of every state enjoy."
D.C. officials have been fighting for increased budget autonomy — in addition to full voting rights in Congress — for years and have seen promise in their negotiations with Mr. Issa over the past year. The city rejected an initial bill that granted them such autonomy but also permanently banned the use of local funds for abortions.
Mr. McDonnell, known for his conservative politics, could serve as a key Republican ally to Mayor Vincent C. Gray and other Democratic leaders in the city in talks with the Republican-dominated House of Representatives.
Mr. McDonnell noted that the District's budget is embedded in the Financial Services Appropriations Bill, so the city may suffer if Congress fails to act on its own spending priorities. For instance, he said, permit-processing and Metro transit operations may be affected.
"That, in turn, has a direct impact on the 100,000 Virginians who commute to their jobs in the District," Mr. McDonnell told the committee.
Mr. McDonnell also noted that the District is one of three jurisdictions in the National Capitol region, so its inability to plan for future investments "has an impact on the economic development dynamic for the entire region."
"It is in both Virginia's and Maryland's best interest that the District be able to operate without interruption, resulting in the financial certainty that will enable long term planning and better regional cooperation," he said.
The Virginian governor also alluded to fundamental fairness for the District. The federal fiscal year from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30 is viewed as cumbersome by the D.C. government, especially because it splits up the school year.
"No other city or state could operate subject to the Congressional calendar, especially with the recent inability to pass a federal budget," he said, "and the current arrangement costs the city millions in deferred planning and maintenance."
In his letter, Mr. McDonnell did not appear to object to whatever restrictions Congress has decides to put on the District, including the restriction on locally funded abortions.
Mr. Gray welcomed the governor's stance and reiterated that a negative impact on the region "is basis enough for the District government to have control of our own taxpayer raised funds."
He said "momentum is building" toward D.C. budget autonomy, after President Obama recently included it in his budget proposal for fiscal year 2013.