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D.C. Mayor Says Budget Case Is Moot, Supports Spending Autonomy

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on March 19, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser told the D.C. Circuit that the dispute between the mayor's office and city council over the District's Budget Autonomy Act is now moot. The Act, a local law, grants D.C. autonomy over its locally raised funds, contrary to the dictates of the federal Home Rule Act which requires that local tax dollars be spent by the District only through congressional appropriations.

Vincent Gray, Bowser's predecessor, had refused to implement the bill, leading to the current litigation. Unlike Gray, Bowser believes the Act is valid. She will likely now move to have the existing suit dismissed.

Move Could Bring New Conflicts with Congress

Bowser's new position not only differs from the previous administration's but also from D.C. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan's ruling in the earlier round of litigation. When Gray refused to follow the act, the city council sued, leading Sullivan to rule that, while their arguments were "deeply moving," the Act clearly violated federal law. It is the appeal from this ruling that Bowser now seeks to end.

Should Bowser attempt to act on budget autonomy, she may come in to renewed conflict with Congress. Bowser recently made headlines by moving forward with marijuana legalization in the District in spite of Congressional threats. In that still ongoing dust-up, Representatives Jason Chaffetz, chair of the House Oversight Committee, and Mark Meadows, chair of the Subcommittee on Government Operations, warned that spending city money to enact the legalizing legislation would violate the Anti-Deficiency Act, potentially leading to prosecution. That Act imposes criminal penalties for spending federal funds that have not been appropriated and could be invoked again should Bowser enforce the Budget Autonomy Act.

District Administration Still Divided

Despite Bowser's position, budget autonomy does not have the backing of the full D.C. administration. Both the District's Attorney General and its Chief Financial Officer maintain that the Act is invalid.

It remains unclear as well whether Bowser's recent filing with the D.C. Circuit will result in the case's dismissal. During oral arguments this March, Judge Millett questioned whether a new position by the administration would render the conflict moot. Both the District's Attorney General and CFO have said that they wish to see the case's conclusion.

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