Norton Announces that Senate D.C. Appropriations Bill is Free of Riders, Exempts D.C. from Shutdowns, Preserves Funding, But Means Tests DCTAG

Via the Office of Congresswoman Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton:

(Washington, D.C. – July 23, 2015) Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) applauded the Republican-led Senate Appropriations Committee, which today approved a fiscal year 2016 District of Columbia Appropriations bill that does not contain any anti-home-rule riders, exempts D.C. from a shutdown in fiscal year 2017, and provides critical funding she requested for the District.   She regrets, however, that the Senate bill, unlike the House bill, imposes new means testing on the D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant Program (DCTAG), which she will seek to eliminate in the final fiscal year 2016 bill.

“I am deeply grateful to my Republican and Democratic friends in the Senate for recognizing the D.C. priorities we discussed both as to funds and language as demonstrated by the Senate Republican bill,” Norton said.  “We should not be surprised that it contains no D.C. riders inserted by the Republican-led committee.  The absence of riders is consistent with the Republican philosophy that local spending and local laws should be set by locally elected officials.  In addition, we deeply appreciate that the bill goes further by preserving the most critical funding for the District, most especially, DCTAG.

I am very disappointed, however, that the bill imposes new means testing on DCTAG, which undermines the intent of the program, and the proven results so far to keep taxpayers residing in the city.  D.C. is a city with many two-earner households, for whom the city is in a regional competition in order to retain our taxpayers here.  We must therefore fight to keep this provision out of the final fiscal year 2016 bill.”

The Senate bill is extraordinary, however, in that the District may spend its local funds as its sees fit.  In contrast, the House Appropriations Committee-approved fiscal year 2016 D.C. Appropriations bill blocks D.C. from spending its local funds on abortion services for low-income women, legalizing marijuana sales and enforcing a D.C. law that prohibits employers from making employment decisions based on reproductive health decisions.

The Senate and House bills both prevent the District government from shutting down if the federal government shuts down in fiscal year 2017.  Norton got the same provision enacted into law for fiscal years 2015 and 2016, which, for the first time ever, removed the threat of a D.C. government shutdown for an entire fiscal year.  The consistency of this provision encourages Norton to believe that she should keep trying to achieve her permanent shutdown exemption bill.  The bill has more good news in not overturning the budget autonomy referendum, approved by D.C. voters in 2013.  Norton has succeeded in preventing Congress from blocking or overturning the budget autonomy referendum.

The bill also provides funding for DCTAG and other D.C. priorities, despite significant cuts in the bill’s total funding.  The bill provides $30 million for DCTAG, equal to the fiscal year 2015 enacted level, just enough to keep the District from sliding into dangerous territory as the number of students qualified for DCTAG increases.  The Senate bill provides $10 million above the amount in the House Appropriations Committee-passed bill, but is $10 million below the amount in the president’s fiscal year 2016 request, which undoubtedly will be necessary in the near future.

However, the bill, for the first time ever, would means test DCTAG below $1 million for students, which was unfortunately requested by the Obama administration.  For students who begin college in or after school year 2016-2017, only those from families with taxable annual income of less than $450,000 would be eligible for DCTAG.  Norton said that amount would do predictable damage to the residents who pay a disproportionate share of the D.C. taxes vital in the city without a state to fall back, and who could move to the take advantage of excellent state university systems in the immediate region.

The House bill does not include new means testing and has never included the provision requested by the Obama administration has requested it in the past.  Norton said that Senate’s means testing provision undermines the purpose of DCTAG, which was to replicate an in-state university system because the District has only one public university and was losing taxpayers as a result.

No state university system requires means tests for in-state tuition.  DCTAG provides equal access to higher education for D.C. residents, and has helped to stabilize, and now grow, the District’s population and taxpaying residents.  Before the program was created, families were moving to neighboring states, which have dozens of public universities.  DCTAG was a major cause in stemming the outflow of residents and attracting newcomers.

The Senate bill also funds other Norton D.C. priorities.  The bill provides an extra $5 million to combat HIV/AIDS in D.C., a special Norton priority, equal to the amount in the House Appropriations Committee-approved bill and the same amount as the fiscal year 2015 enacted level and the president’s fiscal year 2016 budget request.

Norton said that she was particularly relieved by the $14 million for the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority (DC Water) for ongoing work to control flooding in the city and clean up the Anacostia and Potomac rivers and Rock Creek, equal to the fiscal year 2015 enacted level but $10 million below the president’s fiscal year 2016 request.  The Senate amount is gratifying considering that the House Appropriations Committee-approved bill did not provide any funding for DC Water.

Norton said that federal funding for DC Water is particularly warranted because the federal government built the system and is a ratepayer for water and sewer services provided to federal facilities, including the Capitol Complex, in the nation’s capital.


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