Norton Introduces Budget Autonomy Bill, and Asks Obama to Support It in His 2012 Budget, as Bush Did
For more information contact: James Jones, Communications Director
202.462.6000 x12 office / 202.557.4864 mobile / email@example.com
January 19, 2011
WASHINGTON, DC -- Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today introduced the District of Columbia Budget Autonomy Act of 2011 to allow D.C.’s budget to immediately take effect, without congressional approval. In a recent letter to President Barack Obama, she requested that his upcoming fiscal year 2012 budget indicate support for budget autonomy over local D.C. taxpayer-raised funds, as President George W. Bush did in his 2004, 2005, and 2006 budgets. D.C. almost got budget autonomy late last year. Norton got waivers from the authorizers to get the bill included in the D.C. appropriations bill passed by a House appropriations subcommittee. As the lame-duck session ended, Republicans refused to support the omnibus appropriations bill that included budget autonomy, and a continuing resolution was passed instead.
“Like with voting rights, D.C. would have budget autonomy this year but for an unexpected event, in this case, the decision of Congress not to pass the omnibus appropriations bill that contained this provision,” said Norton. “We must not cease pressing for budget autonomy until we get it. Allowing the city to spend its own funds, which residents raise through their own local taxes, is second only to achieving full voting rights. No principle is more essential to the right of self-government, the oldest American principle.”
In her introduction statement, Norton highlighted the benefits of budget autonomy, explaining, “a timely budget means: eliminating the uncertainty of the congressional approval process, which has a negative effect on the city’s bond rating, adding unnecessary interest costs for local taxpayers; significantly increasing the District’s ability to make accurate revenue forecasts; and reducing the countless operational problems that result because the city’s budget cannot be implemented until Congress approves it.” Eliminating the congressional approval process would also permit the city to set its own fiscal calendar to July 1, aligning it with the school year, instead of the congressional fiscal year, which starts October 1, after the school year has already begun.
Last week, the Congresswoman introduced the first three bills in her Free and Equal D.C. series, critical to the city attaining self-governance. These three bills, the New Columbia Admission Act (providing for statehood), the District of Columbia Equal Representation Act (authorizing Senate and House seats), and the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act (giving the city a House vote), all have significant support among residents.
Norton’s full statement follows.
STATEMENT OF CONGRESSWOMAN ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON ON THE INTRODUCTION OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA BUDGET AUTONOMY ACT OF 2011
January 19, 2011
Ms. Norton. Mr. Speaker.
Next to voting rights, the highest priority for District of Columbia residents is to achieve the right to control the funds they themselves raise to support their city, as resident in other jurisdictions do. Therefore, today I introduce a bill, the District of Columbia Budget Autonomy Act of 2011, to allow the District’s local taxpayer-raised budget to take effect immediately when passed by the city, without being subject to affirmative congressional approval.
Control over the dollars raised by local taxpayers is central to local control, the oldest American principle. Moreover, permitting the city’s local budget to become law without first coming to Congress would have multiple practical benefits for both the city and Congress. For the city, a timely budget means: eliminating the uncertainty of the congressional approval process, which has a negative effect on the city’s bond rating, adding unnecessary interest costs for local taxpayers; significantly increasing the District’s ability to make accurate revenue forecasts; and reducing the countless operational problems that result because the city’s budget cannot be implemented until Congress approves it. Of major importance, eliminating congressional approval of D.C.’s local budget would also align the District’s fiscal year with the typical state and local government July 1st fiscal year instead of the congressional fiscal year, which starts in October, allowing ample time to prepare for the usual opening of schools in September. The D.C. local budget consumes valuable subcommittee, committee, and congressional floor time in both houses of Congress even though it is of interest only to those members who use it to promote their own issues, violating the principle of local self-government.
Increasing recognition of the hardships and delays caused by the annual appropriations process has led Congress to begin freeing the city. When I was last in the minority, I negotiated an agreement with the appropriators that has ensured that the city’s local budget is always included in the first continuing resolution, if it is not approved by the start of the fiscal year. This approach has ended the lengthy delay of the budget of a big city until an appropriations bill is passed, often months after October 1st. As a result, the city has been able to spend its local funds at the next year’s level, even though the budgets for federal agencies are often delayed for months. We hope that this process, which ended some serious problems in the functioning of the local government, will continue.
We nearly secured budget autonomy for the District in the last days of the lame duck session last Congress. I used an unusual procedure, getting subcommittee and committee authorizers to agree to place budget autonomy in the D.C. appropriations bill that was passed by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government. Unfortunately, Congress passed a Continuing Resolution instead of regular appropriations bills.
If the District of Columbia Budget Autonomy Act is enacted, Congress would retain jurisdiction over the District of Columbia under article I, section 8, clause 17 of the U.S. Constitution. Because this authority allows Congress to make changes in the District’s budget and laws at anytime, it is unnecessary to require a lengthy repetition of the District’s budget process here. The time is overdue to permit the city to enact its local budget, the single most important step Congress could take to help the District better manage itself.
Members of Congress were sent here to do the business of the nation. Members have no reason to be interested in or to become knowledgeable about the local budget of a single city. In the past, the House and Senate have more often than not passed the District’s budget as is. Our bill takes the Congress in the direction it is already moving. Congressional interference into one of the most vital rights to self-government should end this year with enactment of the District of Columbia Budget Autonomy Act of 2011.