Metro Weekly

Rallying for Referendum 8

Congress has shown that D.C. must pass D.C. budget autonomy

As the citizens of our nation’s capital prepare to head to the polls once more, there are two very important items in the upcoming April 23 special election.

It is no secret that the voters of the District of Columbia have a rather bad turnout for special elections. This time, however, we have doubled the reasons why it is critical to change that abysmal record. While I will let others orate and/or write about the various candidates for the D.C Council, as a longtime District resident I hope you, your friends and neighbors will join the ongoing fight for self-determination by voting to amend the Home Rule Charter via Referendum 8 and support local budget autonomy.

Allow me to explain the District’s arcane budget approval system. Our Council passes a budget in June, but it then must be sent to Capitol Hill. There the 535 mandarins of questionable moral certitude and economic wisdom have us at their mercy. Our budget can linger for months on the authority to spend our money on critical city programs and services.

Referendum 8 seeks to change the process. The budget will still go to Congress, but following the required 30-day review period our city would then be free to spend our local tax dollars on our city. Removing the District’s budget from under the federal appropriations process is certainly an idea whose time has come. No longer would our local government be subject to shutting down when Congress and the president are fighting it out. Simply reminding Congress that the District has balanced its budget in recent years, has a surplus in the bank and a superior bond rating does not seem to mean anything to them.

It is critical for the success of the effort that District voters leave no doubt about our desire to have budget autonomy. We need to say as strongly as possible that the time for congressional meddling is over and that we wish to be treated as fairly as any other jurisdiction. We are over the District being saddled with onerous amendments by representatives who are not even elected by us.

This is a new approach to winning equal rights. It is supported by all councilmembers, the mayor’s office and organizations like DC Vote and DC Appleseed.

Our community has proudly been at the forefront of the fight for District democracy, and for several good reasons. Since the Home Rule Act was implemented, several important laws benefiting our families and friends have been passed. Each, however, has met with congressional opposition. Congress has either overturned D.C Council actions or forbidden the use of local dollars to implement LBGTQ-friendly laws.

Back in 1981, Congress overturned the D.C.-passed law that removed sodomy as a crime. Congress also managed to scuttle needle-exchange programs, despite similar and successful programs in other states. Medical-marijuana laws, a woman’s right to reproductive freedom, and gun-safety programs have also been attacked. Congress attempted to overturn a D.C. law recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions. When D.C. passed a domestic-partnership law, Congress blocked the use of local funds for its implementation for a decade.

It is time to take one more step in the democratic march. As one of those arrested while demonstrating for D.C. voting rights, and knowing the importance of each and every vote by my years on the Victory Campaign Board, I urge you to vote April 23 for Referendum 8.

John Klenert is a member of the Victory Campaign Board and a former member of DC Vote’s board of directors. He may be reached at