- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A House committee with oversight of D.C. affairs on Wednesday advanced a bill that would ensure the District has greater control of its finances.

The legislation, introduced Tuesday by Rep. Darrell E. Issa, dovetails with a voter-approved charter referendum — still under congressional review — that grants the District the right to untether its fiscal year from that of the federal government.

Local officials, including D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray, have openly questioned whether the amendment to the city’s Home Rule Charter could face legal challenges and have pushed for a legislative solution. A review period of the charter amendment, during which congressional leaders could file a disapproval resolution to block it, is nearing an end with no challenges in sight. It could become effective as early as this week, according to Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the city’s nonvoting congressional representative.

The legislation advanced Wednesday by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee allows city officials to set their own fiscal calendar and to spend local tax dollars prior to federal approval if Congress fails to approve the District’s budget in time. The federal government’s fiscal year starts Oct. 1, which local officials frequently complain disrupts the school calendar. While the bill says D.C. officials would be free to spend local funds without prior congressional approval, they would still not be able to spend local dollars on things Congress has prohibited, such as abortions.

“These simple reforms will improve the financial management of the District of Columbia government, particularly in regard to protecting schools and other critical services in the D.C. government when Congress and the president can’t reach agreement on federal funding,” said Mr. Issa, California Republican and chairman of the oversight committee.

The legislation introduced differs from the pending charter amendment in that the voter-approved version gives the District the ability to spend its local tax dollars under all circumstances — not just when Congress fails to reach a budget agreement.

“The chairman’s bill makes technical changes that the city has sought to improve its operations,” Mrs. Norton said in a statement, noting that the D.C. government will no longer be subject to the threat of shutdowns when federal budget negotiators are unable to reach agreement on spending.

Supportive of the intention of the bill, Mrs. Norton said she is holding off on full endorsement as the final language of the legislation could still be changed.

Mr. Issa has said he is committed to introducing a clean budget autonomy bill, after city officials rejected a 2011 proposal because it made permanent the ban on publicly funded abortions in the District.

Last week, the House Appropriations Committee issued a report accompanying the D.C. spending bill that stated the referendum was only “an expression of the opinion of the residents,” and that it did not amount to a change in law. The report itself doesn’t have any impact on the charter change, but it echoed the uneasiness local leaders have felt about the referendum’s ability to stand up to a legal challenge.



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