District residents can at last claim victory on the Local Budget Autonomy Charter Amendment they overwhelmingly ratified two years ago. This morning, the D.C. Council held a second reading on the fiscal year 2016 budget act in accordance with the Charter Amendment. After Mayor Muriel Bowser signs the act, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson will send the local portion to Congress, and it will become law automatically after completing a 30-day review period.
This is the first time in the District’s history that it has been able to enact its own local budget without needing to wait for affirmative congressional appropriation legislation. The unfortunate two-year delay in getting to this point was owing to a lawsuit over the Charter Amendment caused by the prior D.C. Attorney General instructing the prior Mayor to refuse to follow the law.
But we are past that now. Mayor Bowser and her lawyers strongly support the legality of the Charter Amendment, and she therefore asked the federal court where the lawsuit was pending to dismiss the suit. The court did that on May 27, and the result is that the Charter Amendment is now binding law in the District of Columbia. It is a law that was passed unanimously by the D.C. Council, signed by the Mayor, placed on the ballot by the Board of Elections, ratified by the voters, and formally reviewed by the Congress. It is time for District officials to come together to implement it.
We know that arguments have been made in the past against the Charter Amendment. We also know that some may wish to continue making those arguments. For three important reasons, we think they should not do so.
First of all, after a long battle, the Charter Amendment is now the governing law. It is binding on every District official; it is a law that everyone agrees is in the public interest; and it would clearly be contrary to the expressed will of the voters for any District official to now seek to overturn that law.
Second, while it might be understandable that a District official would continue to question the law if there were no valid legal arguments in its favor, that is simply not the case with the Charter Amendment. Not only have the Council’s lawyers and the Mayor’s lawyers made cogent arguments in favor of the law, but so too have some of the ablest, most respected attorneys in the city.
Third, while some have suggested that District officials who question a law may refuse to follow it, that is not so. In fact, if it were so, it would be an invitation to chaos and would force the District to go to court to get approval for a law any time a District official challenged it. Fortunately, that is not the way our government works. As Kim Perry of DC Vote pointed out in her letter to the Post last weekend, “public officials cannot pick and choose which laws to follow.”
In the end, the Council’s action today in passing the District’s local budget presents an opportunity for District officials to come together to take an historic step forward for the city–and vindicate the will of District voters. We hope they will do so.