- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 14, 2013

Mayor Vincent C. Gray on Sunday urged D.C. residents to vote in favor of a ballot question next week that frees the District’s local budget from the grip of Congress — an endorsement that comes after months of opposition to the measure on the grounds that it could invoke federal ire and might not stand up in court.

When residents vote on the charter amendment April 23, they will have the chance to “emancipate” themselves from the federal government’s oversight and give the District budget autonomy, Mayor Gray said in his weekly address on WNEW-FM (99.1 FM), referencing the District’s April 16 Emancipation Day holiday.

“This would send a signal to Congress, the country and the world that we are sick and tired of the special burdens imposed on the District burdens that no other city, county or state in America has to shoulder,” he said.

The charter referendum, if it is rubber-stamped by voters, would force Congress to actively disapprove the local electorate’s wish to detach the city’s budget from the spending process on Capitol Hill. The measure also would let city officials set their own fiscal year instead of using the cumbersome federal version from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30.

Federal lawmakers would still have ultimate authority over the District and could object to the city’s budget during a routine 30-day period in which it passively reviews any D.C. law. However, the referendum would allow the District to spend it’s own tax dollars without waiting for Congress to approve.

Mr. Gray previously expressed skepticism at the D.C. Council’s action to include the referendum on the ballot. Alongside Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan, Mr. Gray worried that the maneuver might not survive a court challenge and potentially could ruffle feathers among those lawmakers on Capitol Hill who are already involved in other efforts to help the District. The vote comes at a time that, Mr. Gray noted in his radio address, “key congressional leaders have expressed significant openness to giving us budget autonomy.”

An attempt led by Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican, has stalled since 2011 because conservative lawmakers tried to attach measures to the bill that would alter the city’s abortion or gun laws. A staffer for Mr. Issa warned in December that a legal challenge to the referendum could delay or tangle up their simultaneous efforts through legislation.

Budget autonomy even got the nod Wednesday from President Obama, whose spending package included a legislative provision that would give the District greater control over its municipal budget.

But with the measure set to go to the vote next week, Mr. Gray said, “I believe the best course of action is to vote for it.”

Activists, though not particularly surprised by Mr. Gray’s eventual endorsement of the referendum, were appreciative that the mayor is supporting the measure.

“Certainly the mayor’s call to action is going to add momentum to the campaign,” said James Jones, a spokesman for the D.C. Vote advocacy group, which is backing the referendum. If the budget autonomy referendum passes and Congress seeks to block the measure, officials would have 35 legislative days to pass their own resolution of disapproval which would make the law null and void, Mr. Jones said.

• Andrea Noble can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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