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Washington D.C. Budget Autonomy Referendum Question (April 2013)

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A Washington D.C. Budget Autonomy Referendum question was decisively approved on the April 23, 2013 ballot in the District of Columbia. It was overwhelmingly approved.

Washington D.C. Elections Board members unanimously authorized a ballot measure that gives the people a chance on April 23 to vote for long sought-after budget autonomy. This proposal authorized a charter amendment that purported to remove the city's budget from the congressional appropriations process, allowing the D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray and the City Council to decide on all local spending and set the fiscal calendar.[1] According to reports, voters were likely to support the amendment. Reports also guessed that Congress would actively disapproval resolution to keep control of the City's budget.[2]


On January 30, 2014, the investigative branch of Congress called the Government Accountability Office announced that they have found that D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan was correct and that the referendum question does in fact exceed the powers of the city home rule charter and was illegal and essentially ineffectual.[3]

Susan A. Poling, the general counsel of the Government Accountability Office wrote, “While the Home Rule Act grants the District Government substantial powers of self-government, the District Government must also comport with all of the act’s limitations." She also stated that the portions of the ballot referendum overwhelmingly approved in April of 2013 “that purport to change the federal government’s role in the District’s budget process are without legal force or effect.”[3]

Election results

Charter Amendment VIII
Approveda Yes 41,438 83.09%
These results are from Washington D.C. elections office.


Supporters of the measure were numerous and included D.C. Council's general counsel and activist groups such as the D.C. Voting Rights Coalition.[1] Speaking on behalf of this group, James Jones said, "A yes vote on [the question] will free D.C.'s local tax dollars from a dysfunctional Congress. Our local tax dollars should not be held hostage by people we did not elect to serve."[4] The D.C. Vote group also released a document supporting the referendum that proposed the charter amendment as the key to granting D.C. residents "the democratic rights enjoyed by all other Americans to control their own local tax revenues" and that budget autonomy will allow the District government to more effectively govern and administer to the needs of the people.[5]


The argument proposed against this referendum by the D.C. Attorney General, Irvin B. Nathan, was simple: the amendment is illegal. Nathan, along with other critics of the amendment such as D.C.'s own Mayor, Vincent Gray, argued that the measure would likely lead to a drawn-out and pricey battle in court because the Anti-deficiency Act forbids the City of Washington D.C, as a federal entity, from spending funds without congressional approval.[1] Nathan supported an effort to achieve budget autonomy for the district residents, but he asserted that a law passed by Congress is the only legal way to do it. When pressed, he stood firm on his position, insisting that this amendment could result in political backlash from Congress who could see it as a violation of their oversight powers. Concerning the reaction on Capitol Hill, Nathan said, "To put it mildly, it is not likely to be pretty."[6]

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