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Metro Brief: Obama budget includes Norton’s D.C. priorities

District of Columbia

On February 15, 2015

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) is elated that President Obama’s fiscal year 2016 budget contains her major D.C. funding and policy priorities, including a provision to allow D.C.’s budget and laws to take effect immediately upon passage by the city. 

Norton said she was particularly delighted that Obama’s proposed budget recommends full funding for the Department of Homeland Security construction, a new D.C. research and innovation center for St. Elizabeths East Campus in Ward 8, and the D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant program. 

However, she said she will oppose a provision in the budget to reduce the annual household income threshold for the tuition assistance program eligibility from $1 million to $450,000 starting in the 2016-2017 school year.  The budget also removes the riders included in the fiscal year 2015 Appropriations Bill that prevented D.C. from using its local funds to tax and regulate the sale of marijuana and from spending local funds on abortion services for low-income women.

“President Obama and his Administration have unequivocally supported our major policy priorities, except for the reduction in the income eligibility for DCTAG,” said Norton. “However, I am grateful for the $10 million increase in tuition assistance funding over the fiscal year 2015 enacted levels. 

“Without tuition assistance, thousands of current D.C. students would be out of college.  But the income reduction would essentially undermine the goal of the program, which is to give D.C. residents the same educational choices and opportunities as Americans who live in states across the country, and would penalize many two-parent D.C. households whom we depend on for local tax revenue. 

“The funding for consolidation at St. Elizabeths is the clearest sign yet that the Administration recognizes that billions in federal funds would go down the drain if the DHS campus were left incomplete.  We are grateful that the President again has demonstrated his support for D.C. to spend its local funds as it chooses and without politically motivated congressional interference.”

To date, Norton has secured over $1.7 billion for construction at St. Elizabeths. Also included in the budget is $9.8 million in new funding for the establishment of a Research and Innovation Center on the District-owned St. Elizabeths East Campus, which the city hopes will attract tech companies drawn by the presence of DHS on the West Campus. 

The budget provides $40 million, a $10 million increase over the fiscal year 2015, for Norton’s student assistance program, which enables D.C. students to attend eligible public universities and colleges nationwide at in-state tuition, and has doubled college attendance in the District.  The budget also provides $20 million for D.C. public schools and $20 million for D.C. public charter schools.

Norton said that the $24.3 million for the DC Water and Sewer Authority, a $10.3 million increase from the fiscal year 2015 level, comes as she and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser were joined by Vice President Joe Biden last month for a tour of DC Water’s new Anacostia River Tunnel Project. The newer tunnel and storm water overflow long-term plan are making the Anacostia River cleanup a national model.

Other Norton priorities in the president’s budget include the seventh $150 million installment for Washington Metro Area Transit Authority (WMATA), plus an additional $1 million in new funding for WMATA to develop a strategic plan for regional mass transit innovation; $6 million in new funding for construction of transitional housing units for D.C. homeless families; $5 million to combat HIV/AIDS in the District; $1 million for the DC Solar Power Initiative; $750,000 for climate risk management in D.C; and $1 million for D.C.-based fine arts organizations. This is the second presidential budget ever to include both budget and legislative autonomy for D.C.  The President’s budget states that, consistent with the principle of home rule, the administration will work with Congress and the mayor to increase and enhance D.C.’s local autonomy.

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