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Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton

Representing the District of Columbia

Places in Washington DC

Norton Calls on House Parliamentarian to Set Record Straight on the D.C. Budget Autonomy Referendum, Which is Still Law

Aug 9, 2017
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today called on the House Parliamentarian, Thomas Wickham, to correct the new House practice guide, which does not accurately describe the law on the District of Columbia’s authority to spend its local funds.  The practice guide suggests that under current law, the District cannot spend its local funds without congressional approval.  However, under a referendum approved by D.C. voters in 2013, which was upheld in court in 2016, the District has the authority to spend its local funds without congressional approval, known as budget autonomy, though the Republican-led Congress has ignored the referendum and continues to appropriate D.C.’s local funds.

“We have great respect for the work of the nonpartisan Parliamentarian, but we are disappointed that the practice guide does not accurately describe current law,” Norton said.  “We assume this was an oversight, but the practice guide could be read as adopting the longstanding position of the House Republican leadership, rejected in court, that the District has no authority to grant itself budget autonomy.  While we recognize that the practice guide, which is more than a thousand pages, cannot be reprinted to address this issue, we expect the Parliamentarian to set the record straight in the Congressional Record now and in future editions of the practice guide. Otherwise, the nonpartisan guide will be cited in misrepresentations of D.C.’s legal authority.”

As originally enacted in 1973, the Home Rule Act required Congress to approve the District’s local budget.  In 2013, District voters approved a referendum amending the Home Rule Act to allow D.C.’s budget to take effect after a congressional review period, like all other D.C. legislation.  In March 2016, the D.C. Superior Court upheld the referendum, and no appeal was filed.  In May 2016, the House passed a bill (H.R. 5233) that would have repealed the referendum and prohibited D.C. from passing similar legislation in the future.  In July 2016, the House passed the fiscal year 2017 D.C. Appropriations bill, which contained the text of H.R. 5233.  The Senate did not take up a bill repealing the referendum.  D.C. passed its fiscal year 2017 local budget pursuant to the referendum and transmitted it to Congress for a 30-day review period.  Neither chamber considered a resolution nullifying the D.C.-passed budget during the review period.  The enacted fiscal year 2017 D.C. Appropriations bill appropriated D.C.’s local funds, thereby preempting the D.C.-passed budget, but did not repeal the referendum.  The House Appropriations Committee-passed fiscal year 2018 D.C. Appropriations bill contains the text of H.R. 5233.  The Senate has not introduced its fiscal year 2018 D.C. Appropriations bill.