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Senate D.C. Budget and Legislative Autonomy Bills Introduced, Boost for D.C. Home Rule

Press Release

Location: Washington, DC

The office of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) announced that, in a significant boost for District of Columbia home rule, Senator Mark Begich (D-AK), the chair of the subcommittee with jurisdiction over D.C., today introduced companion bills to Norton's budget autonomy and legislative autonomy bills. Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), chair of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, which has jurisdiction over D.C., is a co-sponsor of both bills. The Senate legislative autonomy bill, like Norton's, is titled the "District of Columbia Paperwork Reduction Act," and appears to be the first D.C. legislative autonomy bill that has ever been introduced in the Senate. It would eliminate the congressional review period for legislation passed by the D.C. Council. The Senate budget autonomy bill is titled the "D.C. Budget Accountability Act of 2014." It would allow the District's local taxpayer-raised budget to take effect without congressional approval, and would allow D.C. to set its own fiscal year.

"We are grateful that Senator Begich, joined by Senator Carper, has introduced bills that would eliminate two of the great deficiencies in local democracy in the District of Columbia," Congresswoman Norton said. "Senator Begich, a former mayor of Anchorage, showed deep understanding of how impediments in passing local laws and implementing a local budget can wreak havoc on operating a local government when I testified before his subcommittee at a hearing on the effects of federal government shutdowns on the District. Since becoming chair of the full committee, Senator Carper has used his leadership to significantly advance home rule and democracy in D.C. in important ways."

"I have never been shy about tackling federal overreach where I see it. These bills will bring some much needed common sense to the relationship between Congress and the District's government," Senator Begich said. "Alaskans know that local leaders need to make tough choices and be held accountable when putting together their own budgets. I am glad to help Congresswoman Norton move forward on the reforms she has championed for so long."

"One of my core values is to adhere to the Golden Rule in every aspect of my life -- do unto others as you would have them do to you," Senator Carper said. "Each year, the District of Columbia relies on Congress to approve the way it spends its own taxpayer dollars- a requirement that no other city in our country must adhere to. In addition, D.C. laws passed by the D.C. Council and signed by its mayor must wait for congressional review before being implemented. These restrictions on the District's autonomy lead to unnecessary administrative burdens and hinder effective budgeting and planning. The District and its businesses, and its more than 600,000 residents shouldn't have to suffer when Congress can't work together, or because outdated laws prevent it from responding quickly and effectively to local needs. Permitting the District to spend its own money without congressional approval and implement its own laws without waiting is the right thing to do and will help the leaders D.C. residents elect better serve their constituents. The residents of the District of Columbia deserve a government that works, which is why I am proud to join Senator Begich and Congresswoman Norton on these two important bills."

D.C. budget autonomy would eliminate the uncertainty of the congressional approval process of the District's budget, which has a negative effect on D.C.'s bond rating, adding unnecessary interest costs for local taxpayers, and causing countless operational difficulties for the city because the budget cannot be implemented until Congress approves it. In addition, D.C.'s local budget consumes valuable congressional subcommittee, committee, and floor time in both houses of Congress.

D.C. legislative autonomy would eliminate the congressional review period for civil and criminal legislation passed by the District (30 legislative days for civil and 60 legislative days for criminal). Because the congressional review period is limited only to those days when either chamber is in session, D.C. bills often do not become final for many months. This forces the D.C. Council to pass most legislation several times, using a cumbersome and complicated process to keep bills alive. If a congressional resolution disapproving a D.C. bill is signed into law during the congressional review period, the bill does not become law. Since the Home Rule Act of 1973, of the more than 4,500 legislative acts transmitted to Congress, only three resolutions to disapprove a D.C. bill have been enacted -- in 1979, 1981, and 1991 -- and two of those involved distinct federal interests. Instead of using the congressional review period to overturn D.C. legislation, Congress has long used attachments to the D.C. appropriations bill to overturn D.C. legislation.

Today's Senate bills continue the momentum building for budget and legislative autonomy. President Obama included language in his fiscal year 2015 budget that would grant the District budget and legislative autonomy, and had the strongest and most comprehensive call for local D.C. autonomy in a President's budget ever. In addition, Norton got a District of Columbia shutdown-avoidance provision included in the fiscal year 2014 omnibus appropriations bill, allowing the city to spend its local funds and remain open in the event of a federal government shutdown in fiscal year 2015. The provision guarantees that, for the first time ever, D.C. will avoid a local government shutdown for an entire fiscal year. Particularly building the momentum for budget autonomy, no action has been taken to overturn the budget autonomy referendum approved by D.C. voters. Furthermore, the Senate Appropriations Committee included a budget autonomy provision in its committee-passed fiscal year 2014 D.C. Appropriations bill. Last year, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee passed Chairman Darrell Issa's (R-CA) bill that has major elements of budget autonomy. He and Norton are working to perfect final language.

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