District's Taxation Needs Representation
Published: Monday, February 11, 2013
Updated: Monday, February 11, 2013 23:02
On Tax Day, hundreds of thousands of residents of the District of Columbia, including many Georgetown students, faculty and staff, will write checks both to the Internal Revenue Service and the District government. These District residents, however, will not be able to decide where that money is spent unless voters support a budget autonomy referendum in April.
Like parents doubting a small child, Congress believes the citizens of the District cannot be trusted with their own money. Unlike every other taxing jurisdiction in the country, the District cannot spend its own revenue without congressional approval. While the city’s elected council develops a budget, which is signed by the elected mayor, congressmen from across the country — most of whom have never called the District home — have ultimate say on the city’s budget. Recently, the House has struck line items from the District budget, undermining the city’s elected leadership and using its residents as pawns to further their national agenda.
Philosophical opposition aside, congressional control of the District’s budget has practical implications. Congress approves the District’s budget by continuing resolution. On March 27, the continuing resolution that appropriates federal funds will expire. The District’s budget is included in the resolution. If Congress does not vote to renew the continuing resolution, both the federal and District governments will shut down. This means that many city services will close, including the Department of Public Works, the District Public Library System and the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. A shutdown would ostensibly be quite visible — and smelly, as trash pickup would be cancelled.
In September 2011, when a federal government shutdown was imminent, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), the District’s non-voting delegate to Congress, introduced the District of Columbia Fiscal Year 2012 Local Funds Continuation Act to allow D.C. to continue to spend its own money during a federal shutdown. It was defeated on a party-line vote.
After many failed attempts to gain budget autonomy directly from Congress, the D.C. Council recently decided to put the question directly to the taxpayers. The era of Congressional bullying might be over if D.C. voters approve the Budget Autonomy Referendum on April 23.
At the heart of the proposal lies a simple principle: Taxpayers should decide where their taxes are spent. While this is a founding principle of our democracy, a double standard has long been applied to the capital of our democracy.
For years, many argued that the city could not be trusted with its own money and required the guardianship of the more enlightened members of Congress. Regardless of Congress’ track record of fiscal responsibility, the District has made headlines for financial health, ending fiscal year 2012 with a $400 million surplus.
Our elected officials have proven that they can spend their constituents’ tax dollars wisely. Residents of the District have proven that they can — and do — exercise their right to vote to remove leaders of whom they disapprove. Even with an undemocratic inhibition to its effectiveness, local democracy is alive and well in the District. The voters and taxpayers of Washington can be trusted like all other citizens to decide the fate of their tax dollars.
Although federal politics in Washington may be a chess game, the taxpayers of D.C. should not be the pawns. The time has come to end one of the many ridiculous inequities found in the nation’s capital by voting “for” the budget autonomy referendum on April 23.
Peter Prindiville is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. He represents single member district 08 on Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E