D.C. Seeks Budget Autonomy

The fiscal cliff is looming and the U.S. Congress is once again gearing up for a budgetary showdown. While Americans across the country worry about the implications of a monetary stalemate, residents of Washington, D.C. have extra cause for concern. When political standoffs bring the federal government to a gridlock, Washington D.C.’s city libraries might have to close, and trash collection may be halted. With its budget tied to federal appropriations, the city often suffers from a lack of local control. Whereas every other jurisdiction in the U.S. has autonomy over its budget, the nation’s capitol must have its budget approved by Congress. But a new initiative by the D.C. city government is hoping to free the city’s budget.

While many in the district are advocating for D.C. statehood, hoping to equalize the citizenship status of those in the nation’s capital with the rest of the U.S., progress has been slow for backers of the statehood movement.  Rather than wait for a 51st state, local politicians are moving forward with a new plan for budget autonomy. Seeking a referendum for the spring, the D.C. government is hoping that voters will approve a change in the D.C. Home Rule Charter, effectively freeing the city’s budget from the federal appropriations process. If approved by the city’s voters, Congress would have the ability to strike down the altered provision.

In a hearing at the D.C. City Council, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson seemed optimistic that Congress would allow D.C. to seek budget autonomy through this path. So too were those who gave testimony at the hearing, which was partially organized by DC Vote, the leading organization seeking to advance the status of the capital. Although the move was overwhelmingly backed, D.C. Shadow Senator Michael Brown was vocal in his opposition, urging the District to pursue statehood instead. Despite his testimony, support from former Representative Thomas M. Davis III (R-VA) helped to convince the council to move forward.

The Union for Reform Judaism is among the many organizations that have supported this push for D.C. budget autonomy. The URJ has long held that D.C. residents should have home rule, and voting representation. If this measure moves forward, the District will be one step closer to equality.