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D.C. Political Roundup: Budget Autonomy Moves Forward

James Wright | 7/31/2013, 3 p.m.
U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa is the chairman of the House committee that deals with District affairs. (Courtesy photo)

The decades-long struggle for the District to determine how it spends its own money made major strides recently with the legal ratification of a budget autonomy referendum by the U.S. Congress and the passage of two bills – one in the U.S. House of Representatives and the other in the U.S. Senate – that codifies the city's financial independence from the federal government.

Neither chamber of Congress had introduced a disapproval resolution by July 25 that would have invalidated the April 23 referendum overwhelmingly approved by District voters that calls for the city to have budget autonomy. Legally, Congress has until Jan. 1, 2014 to overturn the referendum but Kimberly Perry, the executive director of DC Vote, an organization that is working for full political rights for District residents, said that she’s pleased but guarded by the recent development.

"We're thrilled about this, but we're cautiously optimistic," said Perry, 42. "We know that at any time, even after the January 1 effective date, Congress could still take action to overturn the referendum. We're celebrating, but cautiously."

On July 25, in an historic move, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed "The Fiscal Year 2014 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations" bill that would grant the District budget autonomy. President Barack Obama, a supporter of District statehood, included a provision for budget autonomy in his most recent budget proposal to Congress.

Plus, U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, on July 24, passed a bill out of his committee, "The District of Columbia Financial Efficiency Act of 2013" that would allow the city to spend its own money in case of a federal government shutdown, move the District government’s fiscal deadline from October 1 to July 1 and allow the city to offer its new chief financial officer a salary of $230,700.

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) said that both chambers of Congress are moving in the right direction when it comes to the District and she thanked U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) for his support and Issa, 59, for his efforts.

"The District has now moved closer to budget autonomy than ever in its history," said Norton, 76. “We must seize the moment, bolstered as well by the people's budget autonomy referendum, to finally allow District officials and residents to spend their local funds they alone raise without congressional approval, just as every other U.S. jurisdiction does."

D.C. GOP Wants Gray to Veto Living Wage Bill

The D.C. Republican Party has weighed in on the controversy surrounding Wal-Mart's decision not to build proposed stores at Skyline, Capitol Gateway and New York Avenue and its plan to reconsider stores currently under construction in the District, pending the mayor’s veto and a thorough review.

Leaders of the party are urging D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray to veto the "Large Retailer Accountability Act" (LRAA) which would require big-box retailers, particularly Wal-Mart, to pay its employees at least $12.50 an hour, a so-called living wage, which is significantly more than the current District minimum wage of $8.25.