By now you have probably heard the excellent news: the D.C. Superior Court ruled on Friday that the local budget autonomy referendum overwhelmingly ratified by the voters is valid law. And shortly afterward, the District’s chief financial officer announced that he now has the “definitive ruling” needed to go forward with implementing the law.
This is a great victory for the people of the District in their fight to bring greater democracy to the nation’s capital. There is now no question that the District can spend its own locally raised revenue as it chooses, without waiting for affirmative congressional action, just like every other state and city in the country.
The Mayor, Council, and CFO have all made clear that they will be implementing the charter amendment during the budget process for the next fiscal year. This means that the District will reap all the benefits of local budget autonomy, such as being protected from a federal government shutdown and making it more difficult for Congress to attach riders to local dollars. It also means the city will have greater certainty in its budgetary decisions, and have the authority to change its fiscal year.
The court’s ruling is the culmination of more than five years of work by a broad coalition, including DC Appleseed.
DC Appleseed, working with DC Vote and our pro bono partners at Arent Fox and Latham & Watkins, developed the legal basis for the charter amendment and proposed it to the Council in 2012. That year, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and his colleagues unanimously adopted legislation placing the amendment on a referendum ballot, and the voters ratified it by 82%. Subsequently, Mayor Muriel Bowser joined the Council in defending the law in court soon after she took office. That set in motion the latest court victory.
We congratulate the Mayor’s and Council’s legal teams–including pro bono attorneys Rick Bress of Latham & Watkins, Karen Dunn of Boies Schiller & Flexner, Professor Alan Morrison, and Brian Netter of Mayer Brown–for vindicating the law in court. We also credit the pro bono lawyers who advocated on behalf of DC Appleseed and others in support of the law, including Thorn Pozen of Goldblatt Martin Pozen, as well as Jon Bouker and Barbara Wahl of Arent Fox and Lorie Masters and Karl Sandstrom of Perkins Coie, who filed several amicus briefs.
And, of course, we congratulate the residents of the District of Columbia. The ruling vindicates the law they ratified into law three years ago, and it ensures that they get to decide how to spend their tax dollars through their locally elected representatives.