Norton Gets Record Funding for DCTAG and Other D.C. Priorities, Prevents New Social Riders, Despite First Republican-Controlled Congress in Eight Years
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today announced that the fiscal year 2016 omnibus appropriations bill, released today, is a major victory for the District of Columbia, containing a record $40 million for the D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant Program (DCTAG), which is an increase of $10 million from last year’s level, has no new anti-home-rule riders, exempts D.C. from a shutdown in fiscal year 2017, provides the full $150 million for Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) capital improvements, gives full funding to the Congresswoman’s major economic development project: the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) complex at St. Elizabeths in Ward 8, addresses airplane noise, contains her amendment to combat racial profiling, permits sledding on Capitol Hill, and provides other critical funding for the District that she requested.
Record Funding for DCTAG
The most gratifying result for Norton was securing $40 million for her major education initiative, DCTAG, $10 million more than the fiscal year 2015 enacted level, $10 million more than the Senate had proposed, and $20 million more than the House had proposed. The only disappointment for Norton was that the bill imposes new means testing for DCTAG. The new level is $750,000, although she negotiated that up from the $450,000 means testing that had been proposed by the President and the Senate. For students who begin college in or after school year 2016-2017, those in families with taxable annual income of less than $750,000 would be eligible for DCTAG.
D.C. Exempt from Shutdown
Norton got appropriators to include her provision to prevent the District government from shutting down if the federal government shuts down in fiscal year 2017. This is the third straight year Norton has gotten D.C. exempt from shutdowns for a full fiscal year. The consistency of this provision encourages Norton to believe that she should keep trying to achieve her permanent shutdown exemption bill.
D.C. Budget Autonomy Referendum Preserved
Norton was successful again for the second straight year in keeping the omnibus from overturning D.C.’s budget autonomy referendum, which was approved by D.C. voters in 2013.
No New D.C. Social Riders; RHNDA Rider Kept Out
Norton kept any new D.C. social riders from being included in the omnibus bill, but the omnibus does include the same riders that were enacted in fiscal year 2015, and prohibits D.C. from spending its local funds on abortions for low-income women and on commercializing marijuana. She successfully fought to keep out the rider that was included in the House D.C. appropriations bill that would have prohibited D.C. from using its local funds to enforce the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act (RHNDA), which the House voted to overturn through a disapproval resolution earlier this year, the first such vote to overturn a D.C. law in almost 25 years. RHNDA bars discrimination against employees, their spouses and dependents based on their reproductive health decisions.
Full Funding for WMATA Capital Improvements
The omnibus provides the full $150 million in annual federal funding to WMATA, the seventh straight installment of full funding for WMATA of the $1.5 billion over 10 years for capital improvements authorized in the 2008 Rail Safety Improvement Act. Norton, the ranking member of the House subcommittee with jurisdiction over transit, fought to get the funding restored after the House proposed cutting WMATA’s annual funding by $50 million.
The Department of Homeland Security Complex at St. Elizabeths in Ward 8
Norton secured $556.7 million for DHS consolidation at St. Elizabeths in Ward 8, which ensures that the project is on its way to completion after years of delay. The funding directs $341 million for the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) and $215,679,000 for DHS. Norton was able to get the full requested amount despite the Senate’s proposal to fund only the DHS portion, and the House proposal to fund neither. This funding ensures the completion of structures around the Center building complex, which will house the DHS secretary and top DHS officials.
Other D.C. Priorities
Norton got an extra $5 million to combat HIV/AIDS in D.C., equal to the fiscal year 2015 enacted level, equal to the amounts proposed in the House and Senate, and the same amount as and the president’s fiscal year 2016 budget request. D.C. Water and Sewer Authority (DC Water) is funded at $14 million for ongoing work to control flooding in the city and clean up the Anacostia and Potomac rivers and Rock Creek, equal to the fiscal year 2015 enacted level and the Senate proposed amount, and $10 million below the president’s fiscal year 2016 request, but is still a major victory considering the proposed House bill did not provide any funding for DC Water. The bill provides $435,000 for the Major General David F. Wherley, Jr. District of Columbia National Guard Retention and College Access Program for tuition for D.C. National Guard soldiers, which is the same amount as the fiscal year 2015 enacted level, the Senate and House proposed amounts, and the president’s budget request.
Norton got language included in the omnibus to help address airplane noise that is hurting D.C. neighborhoods. The bill contains language to address the ongoing airplane noise issues being experienced by communities across the country. The bill directs the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to take a more proactive role in engaging communities that are impacted by the new departure and arrival procedures that have been made to accommodate FAA’s NextGen initiative, and the bill requires the FAA to update its community involvement manual and implementation plan and submit it to Congress.
The omnibus includes Norton’s House-passed amendment prohibiting the use of federal transportation funds to engage in unconstitutional profiling based on physical characteristics, such as race, in violation of the Fifth and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Norton got the same amendment included in the fiscal year 2015 omnibus appropriations bill and intends to keep getting it included in annual appropriations bills. This amendment gives states a new mandate in federal law, or they risk losing federal funds to take action against racial profiling, which has been a major issue throughout the nation.
Capitol Hill Sledding
Norton got a win for D.C. families by successfully including language for non-enforcement of a law that prohibits sledding on Capitol Grounds. The provision was included in the report accompanying the omnibus bill.
Norton expressed her disappointment that the bill includes an anti-home-rule rider (known as the CareFirst rider) that effectively blocks D.C. from enforcing a 2009 law that requires non-profit health insurance companies in D.C. (CareFirst’s wholly owned subsidiary Group Hospitalization and Medical Services, Inc. (“GHMSI”) is the only one) to reinvest excessive surplus attributable to the District for public health or for the benefit of subscribers in D.C. The rider amends GHMSI’s congressional charter to require the agreement of D.C., Maryland and Virginia before any of the jurisdictions may order GHMSI to dispose of surplus. Norton had been able to block the rider for years in the hope that the three jurisdictions would reach agreement among themselves. Norton did succeed in allowing any of the jurisdictions to order such disposition without the consent of the other jurisdictions for any surplus before 2012, thereby allowing D.C. to enforce, if it so chooses, the D.C. Insurance Commissioner’s order that GHMSI reinvest $56 million from its 2011 surplus.