D.C. Council sues Mayor Gray over budget autonomy law

Question of the Day

Is it still considered bad form to talk politics during a social gathering?

View results

The D.C. Council is suing Mayor Vincent C. Gray and the city’s chief financial officer over their refusal to implement a voter-approved law giving the District the right to set its budget without congressional interference.

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson in a press conference outside D.C. Superior Court on Thursday announced the lawsuit, which dramatically escalates what has been an ongoing conflict between the branches of government.

“What the council is seeking to do is uphold the law,” Mr. Mendelson said. “This is not frivolous. This is not about us beating our chest. We think that we have a very good legal case.”

The act — which was approved by the council, overwhelmingly passed by voters in April 2013 and signed by the mayor — gives the District the authority to set its own fiscal calendar and spend its locally raised tax dollars without approval from lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

The measure survived a congressional review period, but an opinion issued in January by the Government Accountability Office said it had “no legal effect.” The opinion came after a House Appropriations Committee report in July dismissed the measure as nonbinding.

The issue has come to a head as officials weigh Mr. Gray’s fiscal 2015 budget. Mr. Mendelson said he received letters on April 11 from the mayor and from Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey S. DeWitt indicating they would refuse to enforce the act.

Mr. DeWitt said he would not authorize any payments under a budget that included the provisions of the act, while Mr. Gray said he would veto such a spending plan and that he would transmit the budget to Congress and the president on the customary deadline regardless of whether the council voted on it.

The officials were working on the advice of D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan, who has maintained that the act is illegal.

Attorneys Karen Dunn and Brian Netter, who are representing the council pro bono, said they have been in talks with Mr. Mendelson over the case since February.

The lawsuit seeks a declaration from a judge indicating that the act is valid and directing Mr. Gray and Mr. DeWitt to abide by it.

The mayor, who expressed skepticism about the referendum effort before endorsing it days before the public vote, said through a spokesman that the administration welcomes the opportunity to “definitively settle this matter.”

“While we all agree that the District deserves full budget and legislative autonomy, we are confident that the court will side with the legal opinions of the District’s Attorney General, the District’s Chief Financial Officer, and the Government Accountability Office,” his spokesman, Pedro Ribeiro, said in a statement.

City officials have long complained that the congressional review requirement leaves the District vulnerable to the tortuous political battles among federal lawmakers.

Since 1990, Congress has appropriated the District’s budget ahead of the start of the fiscal year just three times, leading the city to have to increase short-term borrowing to make up for the time in between, Mr. Mendelson said.
The act would also allow the city to adjust its fiscal calendar away from that of the federal government, which begins on Oct. 1 — after the start of the school year.

The council chairman said the limit spending freedom provided by the act would still allow Congress to have its constitutionally mandated oversight of D.C. affairs.

Story Continues →

View Entire Story

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Comments
blog comments powered by Disqus
TWT Video Picks
You Might Also Like
  • The District of Columbia has decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana.  (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

    D.C. police quietly prepping for change in law on marijuana

  • D.C. Council member and mayoral candidate David Catania, at large independent, said that although he had some concerns with the city's fiscal 2015 budget, namely the 'yoga tax,' he said issues could be addressed in next year's budget discussions. (Associated Press)

    Council overrides mayor’s veto of fiscal 2015 budget

  • 3 killed, 4 wounded Sunday in three D.C. shootings

  • D.C. Councilmember Muriel Bowser, one of seven Democrats trying to unseat the incumbent District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray in next week's primary, campaigns on Capitol Hill neighborhood in Washington, Thursday, March 27, 2014. Loyalists are rallying around the mayor, and few are writing him off. But his troubles have provided an opening for one of his challengers, and D.C. Councilmember Muriel Bowser appears to be taking advantage. Two polls released a week before the primary showed Bowser in a statistical tie with Gray.  (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

    Crime hits close to home for D.C. mayoral candidate

  • Gray

    D.C. Council to vote on Gray’s budget veto