Bowser Says D.C. Budget Autonomy Case Is Moot

Bowser said the Budget Autonomy Act is valid. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Bowser said the Budget Autonomy Act is valid. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted March 16, 2015 at 7:07pm

District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser on Monday said an ongoing case over a law granting D.C. control over its local budget is moot, deviating from her predecessor and throwing the future of the case into question.

Bowser filed her response to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C Circuit after requesting the case be put on hold so she could solidify her position, as it began before she took office in January.

“Mayor Muriel Bowser hereby informs this court that her position differs from that of her predecessor,” Bowser’s lawyers wrote in her response. “She believes the Budget Autonomy Act is valid and, absent a judgment restraining her actions, intends to comply with its requirements. Mayor Bowser submits that, accordingly, there is no longer a live controversy between the council and the mayor.”

The case centers on a disagreement between two branches of D.C. government about the Budget Autonomy Act granting D.C. control over its locally raised funds. The act passed the council (when Bowser was a member) and was approved by District voters in April 2013. It took effect after passing a congressional review period last January, but the D.C. executive and legislative branches differed over whether it was actually legal.

Former Mayor Vincent C. Gray and then-Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan argued it could not move forward because Congress has control over D.C.’s budget. In May, a judge struck down the budget autonomy law, siding with Gray, but the council appealed the decision — that’s the case currently in question.

Though Bowser has argued the case is moot because the mayor’s office no longer disagrees with the council, Karl A. Racine, the District’s first elected attorney general, has taken the opposite position. Racine has said the act is not legal. The other party in the case, Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey S. DeWitt, agreed, and previously warned the referendum could violate the law.

The CFO is technically member of the executive branch, but he acts independently of the mayor’s office. Racine, who represents DeWitt in the case, said in a statement Monday evening that the CFO and Racine maintain their position that the act is illegal, pointing to U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan’s ruling that the act was invalid .  

“CFO DeWitt and I agree with Judge Sullivan and regretfully conclude that the Budget Autonomy Act is unlawful and cannot be enforced by the District,” Racie said. “Judge Sullivan, in his 47-page ruling on the case, said that, although he was very sympathetic to the Budget Autonomy Act’s purpose, the Act was simply not legally sound. My independent review of the case confirmed that Judge Sullivan’s conclusion is correct under law, and the CFO and the Office of the Attorney General look forward to a timely final decision in the case.”

In addition to stating her position, Bowser also requested permission to file a suggestion of mootness and a motion to dismiss the appeal by March 23. During the case’s oral arguments in October, Judge Patricia A. Millett questioned whether a new administration would render the case moot, which budget autonomy activists took as a positive sign that the court was open to the possibility.