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Shuckin' and jivin'

(Published November 18, 2002)

Congress is, once again, holding more than half a million D.C. residents' local tax dollars hostage to its political tactics, refusing to carry out its constitutional duty of approving the D.C. government's 2003 budget - almost two months into the fiscal year.

Failing in its responsibilities for the nation's capital has become commonplace for Congress in recent history, whether the reins are in Democratic or Republican hands. Members of Congress continually fail to see that their stubborn insistence on retaining ultimate - and largely ignorant - control over the District's purse strings is the root of the D.C. government's inability to resolve its management problems.

Congress cannot be held accountable by D.C. voters, so there is ultimately no public accountability by the District's elected officials. D.C. officials answer to Congress, not the people who elect them. And most members of Congress couldn't find their way back to Capitol Hill from Burrville in Northeast Washington if their life depended on it - in fact, most of them probably can't even locate Burrville without a detailed map.

And apparently Mayor Anthony A. Williams and the D.C. City Council - safely ensconced in their high-paid positions by an abominably low voter turnout - are content to allow this situation to quietly continue, judging by their lack of public objections. The council, sometimes assailed by leaders of the District's black community for its majority-white complexion, has proven that "shuckin' and jivin'" can be an equal opportunity technique for getting along with the overlord.

The one standout among D.C.'s elected officials in this regard is the District's non-voting delegate to the House of Representatives, Eleanor Holmes Norton. Norton, not known for reticence, has loudly and repeatedly objected to her Capitol Hill colleagues' hypocrisy in fulfilling their constitutional stewardship of the District and continues to lobby a lukewarm White House to help free D.C.'s budget.

"A [continuing resolution] cripples the very management reforms and planning Congress has insisted that the District must do," Norton noted during the House floor debate of a resolution passed Nov. 13 that simply continues last year's funding levels for the D.C. government through Jan. 11. In other words, members of Congress will leave town to enjoy the holidays by shirking their duty.

The current situation means that the D.C. government will operate more than three months into its current fiscal year without the funding it needs to implement numerous reforms and new programs - including planned improvements in the beleaguered D.C. Public Schools. In fact the current school year will effectively be almost half over before any additional funding becomes available due to this irresponsible congressional delay.

Where are the voices of D.C.'s other elected leaders? Why aren't the mayor and council members standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Norton to assail Congress for its nonfeasance? Why aren't D.C.'s elected representatives demanding accountability from Congress - which D.C. residents' tax dollars help fund - with a strong, unified voice when the federal legislature continually creates logjams that seriously impede the proper delivery of city services?

Delegate Norton should not be fighting this fight alone.

Copyright 2002, The Common Denominator