With Capitol Hill failing to either stop the District’s local budget autonomy act from becoming law, or pass legislation freeing the city’s locally raised funds from the appropriations process, the issue is headed to court and pitting D.C.’s elected officials against one another.
Attorneys representing the D.C. Council filed suit on Thursday against the administration of Mayor Vincent Gray for refusing to comply with the process established when the local law went into effect on Jan. 1.
Timing will be key, as the D.C. Council prepares the city’s fiscal 2015 budget and looks to D.C. Superior Court to determine the validity of the local law, which was approved by the council, Gray and ratified by 83 percent of voters.
“Two years ago, when we were advocating for this new law, we never anticipated that a challenge or an opposition would come from our very own executive,” DC Vote Executive Director Kimberly Perry said in an interview. “We anticipated a challenge from Congress.”
On March 4, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson introduced a resolution authorizing the counsel for the council to represent the body’s interest in upholding the legality of the Local Budget Autonomy Act of 2012. Under the resolution, approved unanimously, the general counsel may “initiate, defend, intervene, participate or take any other action” on behalf of the council.
Mendelson and a team of pro bono lawyers are filing suit in partly response to a recent letter from D.C. Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey S. DeWitt that warned the city could “trigger the re-emergence of the Control Board” or lose the “precious, limited Home Rule currently provided to District residents” by moving forward with the law.
DeWitt, Gray and D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan have pointed to a House Appropriations Committee report suggesting the law is not binding and a Government Accountability Office legal opinion that declared the local law null as proof that Congress views its fiscal relationship with the District as unchanged.
Perry believes that given the strength of the council’s new arguments regarding the law, it’s in the best interest of Gray, the city and Nathan — who has opposed the approach to budget autonomy since it was introduced — “to respect our local democracy and the will of the voters and to allow the council to move ahead with our 2015 budget under the new law.”