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What Your Vote Could Mean For District Autonomy

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DC Vote will be promoting the referendum well in advance of the special election April 23.
DC Vote
DC Vote will be promoting the referendum well in advance of the special election April 23.

When District voters head to the polls this spring, they will have the opportunity not only to vote for a replacement for

D.C. voters will have the opportunity to head to the polls this spring. While much of the focus is on who will be elected to fill the at-large city vacated by Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, also on the ballot is a measure that could radically increase autonomy for the District.

The group DC Vote is a major backer of the referendum called Home Rule Charter Amendment 8. If passed, it would wrest control of the District's budget from the federal government.

"It's our tax dollars, it's our money, we should have control over it. Right now we don't," says James Jones, communications director with DC Vote. "This is a real change in what the District has done in the past. We have always asked others to pass legislation for us on the hill. We have had to rely on others. This is an opportunity for the people of the District to step up on April 23 and vote for the District of Columbia."

Unlike many other states and jurisdictions, the District's budget must be approved by Congress. It's tied to their fiscal calendar, and that creates a whole host of unique problems. Whether it's the threat of a government shutdown or other situations where the District can get hurt by having this happen, Jones says budget autonomy makes more sense.

"The District has been held hostage by this. We actually cannot spend money without an approval of Congress — it gets tied up in all these continuing resolutions," Jones says. "If we identify a problem that we want to spend money on, we have to wait months and months and months."

Even if the referendum is passed, implementation is not expected to be that simple. Some have questioned how legal this maneuver is. D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan put out an opinion, for instance, questioning whether the city should go in this direction.

Jones says his group is prepared for a legal battle, if that is what it takes.

"We have had a lot of legal research done on this question, and we absolutely believe it's legal," Jones says. "And we're going to fight that fight if we have to. We're going to defend this and defend the will of the people of the District of Columbia."

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