Committee Approves Collins’ Bill to Provide Budget Autonomy to the District of Columbia

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee today approved Chairman Susan Collins’ (R-ME) legislation to give the District of Columbia’s elected officials authority to approve a significant portion of the city’s budget. The legislation was strongly supported by D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams and the D.C. City Council.

“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,” said Senator Collins.

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, which would help to improve their management of city programs and services.

Under the existing process, the District’s appropriations bill has often been tied up in disputes over unrelated measures in federal appropriations bills, which has resulted in critical delays for city programs. In recent history, the average Congressional delay has been almost three months, which is well after the start of the fiscal year. Last year, for example, the city went without a budget for nearly six months, affecting planned improvements in foster care, public schools and compensation for police and firefighters.

“Historically, the District’s lack of control over local budget resources has created major delays and disruptions in local service delivery,” wrote Mayor Williams in a letter to Senator Collins. “The proposed legislation would eliminate those disruptions and greatly enhance the responsiveness and effectiveness of this government’s services to its citizens…. I hope for the successful passage of this bill into law.”

The District of Columbia Budget Autonomy Act of 2003 still provides for Congressional oversight. Prior to enactment, Congress would have 30 days to review the budget, which would become effective at the start of the fiscal year. In addition, the federally funded portion of the city’s budget would continue to be approved through the current congressional appropriations process.

Unlike other city governments, the District of Columbia cannot significantly reallocate funds to meet the city’s changing needs. Instead, it takes an act of Congress. Last year, for example, the District needed to reallocate funds to support the movement of children from foster care to adoption. This funding transfer was delayed for months until a supplemental appropriations bill moved through Congress.

“You just can’t run a city the way the federal government is run. 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 D.C. City Council has urged Congress to approve the Collins measure and approved a resolution earlier this month to express its support for the legislation. “It is in the public interest and in the best interest of the citizens of the United States that the District of Columbia should have full autonomy over the adoption and revision of its budget. Accordingly, the United States should pass the ‘District of Columbia Budget Autonomy Act of 2003’ this year,” the resolution stated.