Mayor Bowser’s Bold Move for Budget Autonomy

I hope you’ve heard the great news that D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has reversed the previous Mayor’s opposition to the Local Budget Autonomy Charter Amendment. In a filing on Monday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Mayor Bowser advised the Court that she believes the budget autonomy law is valid and that the lawsuit brought by the D.C. Council to enforce the law against the previous Mayor should therefore be dismissed.

The step taken by Mayor Bowser is consistent with the position she has taken on this law all along. She strongly supported the law when she was a member of the D.C. Council. She joined the other members of the Council in bringing suit against the previous Mayor who refused to enforce the law at the direction of the previous Attorney General. And she made clear during her campaign for Mayor that she supported the law and would work to enforce it. Now she has done that, and we applaud her for doing so.

Like Mayor Bowser, DC Appleseed has supported the budget autonomy law from the beginning. We helped to develop the law, testified in its support before the Council, defended the right of voters to have the question placed on the referendum ballot, and filed amicus briefs in support of the law before the federal courts.

We agree with Mayor Bowser that this law is valid, as do a number of highly respected attorneys in the city. We also agree with Mayor Bowser that it is important for District officials to support the law so long as there are good arguments in its favor–which there clearly are. By supporting the law, Mayor Bowser and the Council not only help to move forward a policy that is in the interests of the District, but they also vindicate the overwhelming vote of District residents.

While we regret that the lawsuit against the previous Mayor had to be brought, we’re optimistic that Mayor Bowser’s recent action will lead to dismissal of the lawsuit and the revival of the budget autonomy law. We’re also pleased that Mayor Bowser has retained highly capable pro bono counsel to represent her in this matter: Rick Bress of Latham & Watkins LLP, a DC Appleseed board member, and Alan Morrison of the George Washington University Law School, a member of our advisory council and of our first board 20 years ago.

Even though Mayor Bowser’s action on Monday was an important step forward, there is still more to be done to finally implement the budget autonomy law. In her filing on Monday, Mayor Bowser asked the Court for the opportunity to submit a paper explaining the reasons why she thinks the lawsuit over the law should now be dismissed.

One issue we expect her to address is the Chief Financial Officer’s concerns about the validity of the law in the event Congress takes no affirmative action regarding D.C.’s proposed budget or concerning budget autonomy for the District. However, because it is speculative and hypothetical whether the CFO’s concerns will ever arise, they should not keep the lawsuit from being dismissed. We hope the Court will grant Mayor Bowser the opportunity to address these and the other reasons why the lawsuit should be dismissed, and we hope she will persuade the Court that dismissal is the right action for it to take. If the Court dismisses the action, there is a good chance the city will be able to implement the budget autonomy law in the current budget season–a great outcome for the District and for D.C. voters.

The road to full democracy for the District is long and hard. But Mayor Bowser has moved the city further along that road, and we congratulate her for doing so.


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