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Council Supports Referendum On D.C. Budget Autonomy

Del. Holmes Norton will support referendum

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D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson is planing to introduce a bill that would let District residents vote on budget autonomy. 
Mallory Noe-Payne
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson is planing to introduce a bill that would let District residents vote on budget autonomy. 

Update Oct. 3: Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.'s delegate in Congress says she will support a budget autonomy referendum when it appears on the ballot.

Delegate Norton says while she will continue to try and convince members of Congress to support local budget autonomy — and believes the referendum may raise difficult issues for the city — she says she will vote for the referendum and is urging residents to join her when the issue appears on a future ballot.

Letting the District spend its own tax dollars without congressional approval has been a long-sought goal for Norton and other city leaders. Efforts to achieve budget autonomy in Congress over the years have been stymied by interference from federal lawmakers.

This week, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson introduced a new strategy: a referendum to alter the city's charter that would free the city from these budgetary constraints. The council unanimously passed the bill, and the initiative could appear on a ballot next year.

The D.C. Charter, if approved in a referendum by District voters, would give the city more say on how it spends local dollars.

D.C.'s home rule charter prohibits the city from spending its own tax dollars without congressional approval. But a new analysis by advocacy groups DC Appleseed and DC Vote contends the District could pass a referendum changing its charter to give Congress less control over D.C.'s budget.

All 11 council members signed on as co-introducers of the amendment, setting up a vote on the measure in December. If approved, it would go before voters during a special election in the spring. From there, it would need to survive a 35-day review in Congress. At the end of those 35 days, if Congress has taken no action, the amendment would be official.

Supporters believe the bill could let D.C. set its own fiscal calendar and detach from the federal appropriations process, which causes problems for D.C. when there are threats of a federal government shutdown.

While the push for budget autonomy is not new, past efforts relied on working with members of Congress.

An earlier version of this story stated that Delegate Norton would not support the referendum effort.

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