- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 17, 2015

D.C. lawmakers and advocates called Congress‘ proposed fiscal 2016 spending bill a victory, but said more needs to be done to expunge riders affecting the District, including one that bans the city from permitting retail sales of marijuana.

“There was fairness and even some generosity that I’m grateful for,” said D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting representative in Congress.

The budget includes, among other things, more money for D.C. college grants, an exemption for the District should a federal government shutdown occur next year and full funding for Metro.

D.C. Councilmember Elissa Silverman, at-large independent, was pleased that Metro got full funding.

“The $150 million in federal funding is a crucial part of Metro’s budget, and it will help the system improve its infrastructure to make the system safer,” Ms. Silverman said.

Ms. Norton said the federal appropriations bill, which sets D.C. spending, is a major yardstick for measuring fairness between Congress and the District.

“There was no interference with Congress this year,” Ms. Norton said. “There was some pushback from the House, but not the Senate. They handled it as they would any appropriation.”

Though DC Vote Executive Director Kimberly Perry was happy with the bill overall, she said any riders that affect the District’s ability to spend its own money are unwelcome.

“We’re always disappointed with any meddling in D.C.’s appropriations,” said Ms. Perry, a D.C. voting rights activist. “It’s important not to lose sight each year that any rider is one too many.”

Ms. Perry noted that DC Vote had been pushing back against several provisions that made their way into the bill, including one that prohibits the District from spending its local funds on abortions for low-income women and one barring the city from commercializing marijuana.

Adam Eidinger, who chairs the DC Cannabis Campaign, cited the ban on legislation that would allow marijuana sales as another example of Congress meddling in the District’s business.

“It’s an affront to what the people want here,” Mr. Eidinger said. “Now that it’s legalized, people need a lawful place to buy it. This is disappointing, but it’s not surprising.”

“I don’t agree with any of the riders,” said D.C. Councilmember Vincent Orange, at-large Democrat, adding that the District needs to become a state so that it can use funds as its residents see fit.

The budget contains a record $40 million for the D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant program. That’s an increase of $10 million over last year’s funding level. The program, dubbed DC TAG, was created in 1999 and provides grants of up to $10,000 for college-bound residents toward the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition at public colleges and universities across the country.

And for the third straight year the omnibus spending bill includes a provision that exempts the D.C. government from shutting down if the federal government shuts down in fiscal year 2017. Ms. Norton said she is still pushing for a permanent exemption provision, but that the yearly provision was encouraging.

The spending bill also provides $150 million in annual funding to the Metro as part of the $1.5 billion over 10 years that Metro was promised for capital improvements back in 2008.

The House tried to cut the annual funding by $50 million, but full funding made its way into the bill.

Some of the smaller funding initiatives Congress approved included $14 million for the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority to help combat flooding in the District and clean up the Anacostia and Potomac rivers.

And just in time for winter, the bill includes a provision directing U.S. Capitol Police to allow people to sled on Capitol grounds despite a law barring the activity.

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