Mendelson Cautious on Budget Autonomy Act

Mendelson, left, is cautious about what's next. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

For the first time, the District of Columbia could move forward with a budget that is not tied to the federal appropriations process, thanks to a court decision issued Wednesday.  

“I have to confer with our general counsel, but I expect that we’re going to have to follow the law, which is budget autonomy. Which means we’ll be voting twice and sending the budget to the Congress as we do with any other law,” D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said in a phone interview. On Wednesday, a federal appeals court dismissed a case surrounding the local Budget Autonomy Act, prompting D.C. officials and activists to argue it could now take effect. Mendelson indicated he believed the act could take effect, but he stopped short of definitively saying he would move forward with the new budget process under the act. He expects to "get clarity" about the ruling and come to a final decision about the next step over the next two weeks.  

Bowser, Council Score D.C. Budget Autonomy Victory

Bowser's motion to dismiss the budget autonomy case appeal was granted Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser and the D.C. Council scored a victory Wednesday in the ongoing court case surrounding a law granting D.C. more control over its local budget.  

On the same day the D.C. Council debated the District's budget, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit granted Bowser's motion to dismiss the case's appeal, which centered around a dispute between the D.C. Council and Bowser's predecessor, Vincent Gray. Gray believed that the Budget Autonomy Act was illegal, pitting him against the D.C. Council in court. But since Bowser believes it is legal, the court ruled that the case is moot. For some activists and D.C. officials, the decision means the act could take effect this year.  

National Watchdog Group Jumps Into D.C. Budget Autonomy Case

Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton accused the D.C. mayor and council of playing "corrupt political games." (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Judicial Watch, a national watchdog group, has inserted itself into the District of Columbia court case surrounding the Budget Autonomy Act, arguing the mayor and the District Council are wrong to support the act and are playing "corrupt political games." "I think if you look at Judicial Watch, you see that we do focus a lot on national issues, but over the years we have focused on local issues around the country," Judicial Watch attorney Michael Bekesha said in a Wednesday phone interview. "We’re an organization focused on the rule of law and we will bring lawsuits, tackle issues, whenever we think the rule of law is being violated. We think it’s going here. It’s happening."  

Judicial Watch signaled its intentions Wednesday, when President Tom Fitton said in a release, “Mayor [Muriel] Bowser and the D.C. Council are attempting a power grab to spend tax dollars without authority under law,” adding, “Our taxpayer client seeks to make sure no tax dollars are spent in violation of the well-established law that the Congress must appropriate the District of Columbia’s budget. D.C. taxpayers shouldn’t have to foot the bill for the corrupt political games of its mayor and its D.C. Council.”  

Bowser and Racine Still at Odds in Budget Autonomy Case

Bowser doesn't agree with the city's elected attorney general about the Budget Autonomy Act. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The standoff between District of Columbia officials over the Budget Autonomy Act continued this week, with parties solidifying their positions in court filings and exposing a rift between the mayor and the attorney general.  

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser recently deviated from her predecessor , arguing that the act is legal, and has since filed a motion to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that the case should be dismissed. The case centered on a disagreement between two branches of D.C. government about the Budget Autonomy Act granting D.C. more control over its locally raised funds. Bowser's predecessor, Mayor Vincent Gray, clashed with the D.C. Council and believed the act was not legal, but Bowser took the opposite position. She argued that since the mayor and the council no longer disagree about the act, the case is moot. But she still faces opposition from the District's attorney general and chief financial officer.  

Bowser Says D.C. Budget Autonomy Case Is Moot

Bowser said the Budget Autonomy Act is valid. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

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.

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.  

Fate of D.C. Budget Autonomy Case Uncertain

Bowser filed a motion to pause the case, so she could review her position. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The ongoing case over a law granting the District of Columbia control over its local budget could be stalled as the mayor solidifies her position, raising questions about the future of the case.  

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, in conjunction with Attorney General Karl A. Racine, the District’s first elected attorney general, filed a motion with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on Feb. 13 asking that the case pitting the mayor’s office against the D.C. Council be paused for 30 days so the mayor could review her position. Judges have yet to rule on the motion. “The court actually anticipated that this might happen,” Walter Smith, executive director of DC Appleseed, said in a Tuesday phone interview, referring to questions raised during the oral arguments in October about how a new mayor would affect the case.  

Obama's Budget Includes D.C. Marijuana, Budget Autonomy Provisions (Updated)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 5:49 p.m. | President Barack Obama waded into the debate about marijuana legalization in the District of Columbia, as well as budget and legislative autonomy, with a few provisions tucked into the fiscal 2016 budget proposal released Monday.  

The proposal expands the District's ability to set its own budget and spend local funds, rolling back sections of Congress' 2015 spending package  that targeted social policies in D.C., particularly the city-wide initiative that would legalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana. In the 2015 spending bill enacted in December, a policy rider moved to block the initiative , which 70 percent of D.C. voters approved in November. The rider blocked federal and local funds from being used “to enact any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or reduce penalties associated with the possession, use or distribution” of  marijuana. District officials argue the initiative can still go forward, despite the rider, because the initiative was enacted before the spending package became law. But, they also acknowledge that the rider prevents the District from using local funds to enact any legislation to regulate the tax and sales of marijuana.  

'Cromnibus' Would Ban D.C. From Legalizing Recreational Pot

The District will have to grapple with a new marijuana rider. ( Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Congress would block the District of Columbia from legalizing marijuana for recreational use, but preserve its decriminalization law, under the spending package released Tuesday night.  

In the D.C. appropriations section, which allocates $680 million of federal funds to the District, is an amendment barring federal and local funds from being used “to enact any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or reduce penalties associated with the possession, use or distribution” of marijuana. The language would ban the city from enacting Referendum 71, a ballot initiative overwhelmingly approved by voters in November. The pot rider is similar to an amendment offered by Rep. Andy Harris, D-Md., which was being discussed in appropriations negotiations. That would have reversed a D.C. law making possession of less than an ounce of pot a civil offense and undone D.C.’s medical marijuana program, according to GOP sources. Under the introduced language, decriminalization and the medical program would be left alone.  

D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan Resigns

The District of Columbia's Attorney General, Irvin B. Nathan, tendered his resignation Wednesday, effective Nov. 17. Nathan's resignation comes the day after D.C. voters elected attorney Karl A. Racine to succeed him.  

"As this administration winds down in the six weeks after my departure, it is time for me to move on, to focus on some long neglected personal issues, and to formulate professional plans for the future," Nathan wrote in his letter to Mayor Vincent Gray.