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Court Gives Bowser Budget Autonomy Deadline

Bowser has until March 16 to make a decision. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals has paused an ongoing case over budget autonomy, giving Mayor Muriel Bowser until March 16 to solidify her position in the case, public court documents filed Friday show.  

The decision comes after Bowser filed a motion for abeyance on Feb. 13, asking the court to suspend the case she inherited from her predecessor, Vincent C. Gray, which pitted the mayor's office against the D.C. Council. In the order filed Friday, the circuit judges granted Bowser's motion, giving her 30 days to review her position.  

The new mayor's move thrust the future of the case into uncertainty . The legal feud centered around a disagreement between two branches of D.C. government about the legality of a budget autonomy act granting D.C. control over its locally raised funds. The act passed the council, was approved by 83 percent of District voters in April 2013 and took effect after passing a congressional review period last January.  

But Gray and then-Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan argued the act was illegal because Congress has control over D.C.’s budget. The D.C. Council disagreed, and the two branches went to court. In May, a judge struck down the budget autonomy law. But the council appealed the decision, leading it to the case currently in question.  

Bowser was a member of the council when it unanimously passed the budget autonomy act. While she has not stated her current position as mayor, D.C. autonomy activists were optimistic she would side with the council. In her motion, she noted she would no longer be represented by Attorney General Karl A. Racine, who believes the budget autonomy act is illegal. Racine is still representing the city's chief financial officer, Jeffrey S. DeWitt, who previously warned the act could violate the law.  

Asked about the ongoing case on WAMU's "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" on Friday afternoon, Racine acknowledged it could turn into a case where the council and mayor are suing the CFO. But he pointed out the mayor is entitled to employ her own counsel.  

"I think reasonable people can disagree," Racine said. He later added, “In this case we have a disagreement with the council and perhaps with Mayor Bowser.”  

Should the mayor decide to side with the council, that would raise further questions as to whether the CFO, a member of the executive branch, could continue the lawsuit on his own.  

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