Ever since the new Republican Congress swept into the Capitol last month, D.C. residents have been anxiously anticipating a period of unwanted federal involvement in their city’s affairs. Constitutionally, Congress is given extensive jurisdiction over the District, and historically Republicans have been eager to interfere and impose their own agenda. Accordingly, Republicans have proposed a budget for the rest of fiscal year 2011, which includes cuts to Metro funding as well as several budget “riders,” restrictions on the ways the D.C. government can spend its money. There is no guarantee that these proposals will become law, but it is clear that the fears of interference were justified.
One of the Republicans’ proposals would ban public funding for abortion or a needle exchange program. This is less about the Republicans’ ostensible desire to reduce federal spending than it is about subjecting District residents to the Republican social agenda. Needle exchange programs are an effective way to reduce the transmission of HIV/AIDS, an epidemic medical problem among District residents. Republicans should not be allowed to jeopardize the health of D.C. residents in order to score points with social conservatives in their home districts.
The Republicans’ proposal also includes a $150 million cut to funding for the Metro—which is already facing a million-dollar budget gap—and millions in cuts to D.C. public schools. Many schools have already been forced to lay off teachers, and city official have said that the District will not be able to make up any lost federal funding. The District’s courts also face a $25.5 million cut, and water and sewer systems face a $10 million cut.
By contrast, President Barack Obama’s proposed budget goes to great lengths to protect the interests of the District, and he deserves commendation for supporting the priorities of D.C. when allocating funding. The budget holds funding for local charter schools at 2010 levels and increases aid to D.C. public schools by $2.5 million. It also provides for $150 million in upgrades to the Metro system.
D.C. is the only city in the nation in which citizens pay their full complement of local and federal taxes with very little say on how those taxes are spent. Instead of finding ways to interfere with a city they were not elected to represent, Republicans should focus on delivering on their campaign promises. Their time would be better spent addressing unemployment or the increasing costs of medical care than eliminating services in a city that deserves the right to govern itself.