Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Oversight of Government Management Subcommittee Chairman Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, introduced legislation Tuesday to give the District of Columbia greater control over its budget so that the city can be managed more effectively.
The District of Columbia Budget Autonomy Act of 2012 would allow the mayor and city council to enact the locally-funded portion of D.C.'s budget at the beginning of a new fiscal year without explicit approval from Congress. Under existing law, the District cannot implement its budget until Congress affirmatively approves it. Ongoing budget disputes in Congress have delayed implementation of the D.C. budget on multiple occasions, creating needless fiscal uncertainty for the city.
"The people of the District of Columbia should not be held hostage to the gyrations of a divided Congress," Lieberman said. "Our bill would give the District greater control over its own funds and end the fiscal uncertainty that comes from what have become routine protracted Congressional budget battles. This bill is long overdue and would appropriately advance the concept of an independent D.C."
Collins said: "Providing the District of Columbia with more autonomy over its budget will help the Mayor and the District's City Council better manage and run the city. You just can't run a city the way the federal government is run. A city requires more flexibility and predictability. The elected leaders of the District of Columbia must be given the budget authority they need to provide the fundamental services that city residents rely upon."
Akaka said: "As Chairman of the subcommittee that oversees the District of Columbia, I strongly support D.C. local budget autonomy. The District's taxpayers deserve a locally-elected government that is accountable for deciding how and when their local tax dollars are spent, free of congressional interference."
In the last 14 years, Congress has failed to pass D.C's budget by the beginning of the new fiscal year in all but two years. While the average delay is from one to three months, in 2009, Congress was more than six months overdue, and in 2011, Congress did not pass a budget until five and a half months after the beginning of the new fiscal year.
Federal budget battles and delayed passage of the D.C. budget also raise the specter of a potential shutdown of the D.C. government. This occurred in 1995 for 26 days, costing the District an estimated $21 million. Last year, 3,000 D.C. staff hours were spent planning for a potential shutdown.
The District of Columbia Budget Autonomy Act of 2012, which is supported by D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, D.C. City Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown and D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, still allows for Congressional oversight since the federally-funded portion of the city's budget would still be approved through the current budget and appropriations processes.