- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The vote was the easy part. Now for the waiting period.

D.C. residents overwhelmingly cast ballots Tuesday to give the city budget autonomy from Congress, but supporters will be crossing their fingers while counting down the 35 legislative-day period during which federal lawmakers could attempt to derail the approved charter amendment.

“There’s a lot of wait and see, and it’s going to be kind of a long wait,” said James Jones, a spokesman for the D.C. Vote advocacy group, which backed the referendum.

While Mr. Jones speculated that the 35-day period, which only counts days Congress is in session, could stretch into July, supporters of the referendum take comfort in the fact that there do not appear to be any significant threats to the legislation’s adoption.

“We have no specific information about anyone in Congress who is lining us up in their sight,” he said.

If Congress seeks to block the measure — which allows the city to spend its own local tax dollars without congressional approval and to set its own fiscal calendar — legislators would have to pass their own resolution of disapproval in both the House and the Senate and have the bill signed by the president, who in the past has expressed his support for budget autonomy.

“We’re hopeful that Congress will uphold the District voters’ desire to have budget autonomy,” said Pedro Ribeiro, spokesman for D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray.

While voter turnout in Tuesday’s special election was low — just 9.8 percent of the District’s registered voters cast a ballot — 83 percent of the 49,869 voters who did come out supported the budget autonomy charter amendment.

Initially, D.C. officials, including Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan, spoke out against allowing a referendum on the budget autonomy measure. Officials worried that it could cause other efforts for the District to gain control of its purse strings to backfire. A spokesman for Mr. Nathan said the office had nothing new to say on the issue when contacted Wednesday.

Local leaders have worked closely with Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican, on efforts to pass a budget autonomy bill on Capitol Hill. But attempts have stalled since 2011 because conservative lawmakers tried to attach riders to the bill that would alter the city’s abortion or gun laws.

After the D.C. Board of Elections allowed the referendum to go on the special election ballot, the local officials who had expressed opposition made no effort to act on it. Rather, Mr. Gray encouraged voters to “emancipate” themselves by voting in favor of the charter amendment.

Even if the referendum decision is kept intact, Mr. Jones said D.C. Vote might still push to have legislation passed on Capitol Hill to provide more “certainty,” particularly given that Congress could at anytime move to change the District’s Home Rule Charter.

On the Hill, the passage seems to have raised more interest than opposition.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the city’s nonvoting congressional representative, said the vote has led to “more robust discussions about congressional action on budget autonomy.”

Mr. Ribeiro said the mayor would let leaders on Capitol Hill decide whether they fell it necessary to pursue such a bill.

“We have always said this is a step toward more autonomy in the District. We are going to continue working,” Mr. Ribeiro said. “If the members feel they want to push legislation, we certainly aren’t going to stop them from doing that.”

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

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