- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 4, 2003

D.C. officials would be able to spend city money without congressional approval under a bill introduced in the House of Representatives yesterday.
Members of the House and Senate still would have 30 days to review the District's budget to preserve constitutionally mandated oversight.
"The District's leaders and residents have earned the right to this freedom and this accountability," said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican and chairman of the House Government Reform Committee. Mr. Davis and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton are co-sponsors of the D.C. Budget Autonomy Act of 2003.
"Our bill would guarantee that the D.C. budget would always go into effect at the start of the fiscal year, on October 1," said Mrs. Norton, who is able to vote in committee on behalf of the District's 573,000 residents but lacks a vote in the full House.
Mr. Davis and Mrs. Norton contend that budget delays have reduced the city's bond rating and created operational problems for municipal agencies. This year, the District's budget appropriation was approved five months late, forcing officials to hold spending at fiscal 2002 levels. For the D.C. Public Schools, the consequences included canceling orders for textbooks, Mrs. Norton said.
Although Mrs. Norton has introduced budget-autonomy measures in past congressional sessions, the addition of the review clause is one reason Mr. Davis says he believes the bill has a good chance for passage this time.
"It has the president's support," said Mr. Davis, noting that a reference to "budget autonomy for the District" was included in the federal budget submitted by the Bush administration yesterday.
"It's a big milestone," D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams said.
Mr. Bush's fiscal 2004 budget includes $58 million for city projects. Of that amount, $25 million is earmarked to clean the Anacostia River and begin construction of a seven-mile river walk.
It also includes $15 million for the city's public-safety agencies to defray costs of providing services at demonstrations, protests and federal events.
The federal government also covers the costs of operating the city's court system. The Bush budget includes $196 million for those programs.

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