|On Friday, the District won a major victory in its battle to allow the local government the ability to spend the money collected through local DC taxes. DC Superior Court Judge Brian Holeman issued a pro-budget autonomy opinion on the longstanding struggle for this essential power. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson issued a statement Friday celebrating the decision. To summarize Friday’s news, in short: Our Court decided Our Council and Our Mayor can spend Our Local Revenues.
In a battle that once pitted the Council and District voters against Mayor Vincent Gray and Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Jeffrey DeWitt, it appears for now that the Council and the District voters have won out. The battle is of great consequence, because each year, fully 99 percent of the District’s budget is made up of locally-raised revenue and formula-based, non-discretionary federal funding. Only one percent of our budget is discretionary federal funding. This one percent has been hobbling the other 99 percent since Home Rule began, and until budget autonomy came into effect.
A Brief History of Budget Autonomy
In April of 2013, an initiative on budget autonomy was supported by a whopping 83% of those who voted. The Council fully intended to honor that action, so when Mayor Gray and CFO DeWitt failed to proceed as the referendum instructed, the Council took the matter to court. (The Mayor and CFO supported budget autonomy in principle, but did not feel adequate legal certainty was in place to begin its implementation.) An initial ruling, by a federal District Court, ruled against budget autonomy. A subsequent federal Appeals Court decision vacated that earlier ruling, and sent the matter to DC Superior Court.
In the midst of this court process, Mayor Muriel Bowser was elected, and she shifted the view of the Mayor’s office. She sided with the Council, leaving the CFO as the lone respondent. The Superior Court decided against the CFO’s argument, and subsequently, the CFO has indicated his office will not appeal this decision, because the legal clarity he sought earlier is now in place. As a result, budget autonomy is now the law of the land.
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