D.C. Council approves budget autonomy charter amendment

D.C. Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve a charter amendment, setting up a ballot referendum in the spring special election on D.C. budget autonomy.

If passed, Congress would be stripped of its authority to approve D.C.'s municipal budget.

But some supporters of "budget autonomy" are worried about upsetting Republican allies on Capitol Hill.

Mayor Vincent Gray, (D) - District of Columbia, said, "The question is whether Congress would allow this to go without any interaction at all. I hope they do, but I certainly have some reservations about it."

D.C. Councilmembers reviewed an eight page letter from Gray, urging them to consider the legal, political and fiscal consequences of a budget autonomy charter amendment.

Some worry this approach violates the Home Rule Act and could set up a long court fight.

Still, the council approved the amendment, and D.C. voters will have the final say most likely in an April 23 special election.

"I would never campaign against budget autonomy in the city. We're only trying to put out there - especially as our AG has analyzed it - the concerns that exist . But at the end of the day, budget autonomy," Gray added.

Like Gray, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton has reservations. But she says she'll continue her work to pass a budget autonomy bill through Congress.

At a public hearing last month, the council was reassured by legal experts that this charter amendment is constitutional.

James Jones, the DC Vote communications director, said, "The worst case scenario we end up with here is we're back in the same situation we were in before. We feel very confident with our legal advice."

DC Vote has already started printing campaign signs, and it hopes the referendum will help educate voters nationwide about the issue.

"And we're going to send a signal to Congress about keeping their hands out of our pockets," Jones continued.

Advocates also point to 15 years of balanced budgets and the prospect that the district government would be forced to close int he event of a federal shutdown.

To stop the charter amendment from taking effect, Congress would have to pass a disapproval resolution, and President Barack Obama would have to sign it, which supporters say is extremely unlikely.