The D.C. Board of Elections on Tuesday rejected arguments from the city’s top lawyer and will let voters decide this spring if they want to divorce the city’s local budget from the spending process on Capitol Hill — a long-sought goal known as “budget autonomy.” The board’s decision came a day after D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan reluctantly implored the board to be “courageous” and to deny a proposed charter referendum from the ballot, even if it would be a politically unpopular stance. He said the measure is legally unsound and could create a backlash from members of Congress.
The board bucked his request by drafting ballot language for the D.C. Council-driven effort so the electorate can weigh in during the April 23 special election to fill a vacant council seat.
“A yes vote on [the question] will free D.C.’s local tax dollars from a dysfunctional Congress,” said James Jones, a spokesman for the D.C. Vote advocacy group, which is backing the referendum. “Our local tax dollars should not be held hostage by people we did not elect to serve.”
Mr. Nathan, who served as general counsel to the House of Representatives from 2007 to 2011, told the elections board it pained him to testify against the referendum, since he thinks the city deserves the right to spend its locally raised revenues.
But, he said, he took an oath to uphold the law. The measure does not pass legal muster and could result in a political backlash from members of Congress who view the move as an encroachment on their oversight powers, he told the board.