Walter’s Corner: Big Strides for D.C. Democracy, D.C. Jobs

The new year has only just begun, but I wanted to report that two of DC Appleseed’s most important projects have already made big strides. Last week, UDC’s community college was granted “branch campus” status by its accrediting body – a huge step forward on the college’s path to strength and independence.  And just this morning, the Board of Elections certified the Local Budget Autonomy Referendum for the April 23 special election, which means that D.C. residents will have the opportunity to vote on this critical issue.

DC Appleseed has worked for several years to establish a D.C. community college committed to preparing residents for jobs and further college education.  In order for the community college to best carry out this critical mission, the Mayor, the D.C. Council, and the UDC Board are all committed to making the college independent of UDC.  Recently, I chaired an Advisory Board charged with assisting UDC and the District in determining how best to do this.  The Advisory Board recommended that the community college start by seeking designation as a “branch campus,” which was granted last week. As a ”branch campus,” the community college will be afforded greater autonomy over its budget, faculty, and staff. Now that the community college has received this new status, we look forward to working with UDC and the District to help the community college take the next step toward independence—separate accreditation.

DC Appleseed also just achieved a milestone in our longstanding effort to bring budget autonomy to the District. Budget autonomy would give the District the ability to spend the $6 billion in revenue it raises on its own from its residents, businesses, and visitors, without waiting for a congressional appropriation. By certifying the Local Budget Autonomy Referendum today, the Board of Elections made it official that D.C. residents will be able to vote on whether the District should have this autonomy.

The decision is big news since just a few weeks ago, the D.C. Attorney General urged the Board to refuse to put the question on the ballot.  In response, our pro bono partners at Arent Fox LLP provided the D.C. Council and the Board with an analysis of why the Board should reject the Attorney General’s position and give D.C. residents the opportunity to vote on this important issue. At the Board’s hearing, both Council Chair Phil Mendelson and his General Counsel David Zvenyach spoke eloquently in support of the referendum and the Board agreed that it should move forward.  Now, we stand united with the unanimous Council, the Mayor, and the vast majority of D.C. residents who are expected to vote “yes” on April 23.

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