WASHINGTON—Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Susan Collins (R-ME) and Ranking Member Joe Lieberman (D-CT) hailed Senate passage Tuesday of a bill that would give the District of Columbia the freedom to approve the vast majority of its budget without having to wait for Congress to complete its own budget work.
The legislation, the District of Columbia Budget Autonomy Act of 2003 (S. 1267), would allow the mayor and city council to enact the locally-funded portion of the District’s annual budget even if Congress has not enacted the federal portion of D.C.’s budget before the start of the new fiscal year.
Under the existing process, the District’s federal appropriations bill has often been tied up in disputes over unrelated topics, which has resulted in critical delays for city programs. Over the past several years, Congress failed to approve the District’s budget until months after the fiscal year had begun. In recent years, the average delay has been almost three months. Last year, however, the city went without a budget for nearly six months, affecting planned improvements in foster care, public schools, and compensation for police and firefighters.
“You just can’t run a city if you’re beholden to the federal budget schedule. A city requires more flexibility and predictability,” Senator Collins said. “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.”
“The District should not be held hostage by needless delays in the Congressional budget process,” Senator Lieberman said. “Our bill will remove the uncertainty that has plagued some past D.C. budgets, and give the District greater control over its own funds. This bill is long overdue, and it represents an important step toward Home Rule.”
The District of Columbia Budget Autonomy Act of 2003, which is supported by D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams and the D.C. City Council, still allows for Congressional oversight: Congress would have 30 days to review the budget before it was enacted. In addition, the federally funded portion of the city’s budget would still be approved through the current congressional appropriations process.
The Senate bill is cosponsored by Senators Ted Stevens (R-AK), George Voinovich (R-OH), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Mike DeWine (R-OH) and Mary Landrieu (D-LA). The House companion bill has been introduced by House Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis (R-VA) and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC).