Speaking before the House of Representatives Oversight Subcommittee on Thursday, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray addressed the controversial restrictions for the District in Congress’s fiscal year 2012 budget.
Gray called for an easing of federal restrictions on the D.C. budget process, saying that federal guidelines put an undue strain on the District.
“Mr. Chairman, the District of Columbia raises over $5.5 billion per year in local funds from our residents in property taxes, sales taxes, and income taxes,” he said in his testimony. “A majority of the functions of the District government, including all the services provided by any other state, are funded through these locally raised dollars. Nevertheless, it is the lengthy and complicated federal appropriations process that has severe effects on the District government.”
The District’s financial independence has become a hot-button issue in light of the potential government shutdown in April and the resulting budget deal that limited D.C.’s ability to make decisions on issues ranging from abortion to school vouchers.
Many D.C. politicians were outraged over their lack of control, and Gray and several D.C. Council members were arrested at protests for D.C. voting rights.
Gray appealed to Congress to remove the District’s budget from the control of the national government and allow it the same control over local funds as is afforded to states.
The Washington Post reported that Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and several other Congress members indicated the possibility of giving D.C. more freedom to determine its budget.
“I think there’s a justification to let the district do what a city does. A city plans its own budget, uses its own funds and typically goes to a state capital hoping to get more,” Issa said. He stressed however that Congress would not offer D.C. total budget autonomy.
Currently, there is about a four month gap between when the District formulates its budget and when it is approved by Congress.
Other proposed changes Gray addressed include the creation of a D.C. “contingent budget” funded by local taxes and revenue that Congress would vote on earlier in the year. The U.S. government would then appropriate federal funds to the city for certain programs and organizations.