Budget Autonomy Act court ruling: Council still optimistic

The Council receives the news of the court’s decision with frustration and disappointment and looks forward to the matter being reconsidered on appeal. Despite the court’s ruling, the judge’s opinion highlights the consensus made recently on an issue that has bedeviled the District since the start of Home Rule.

Our position is that the Budget Autonomy Act was a valid exercise of the power Congress gave to the District to amend our charter, and that it followed the process Congress mandated for such changes. Although we respect Judge Sullivan’s orders, we expect that the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit will review the case with fresh eyes and will carefully examine the compelling legal arguments advanced by pro bono counsel.

Although adversaries in court, the defendants in the case (the Mayor and the Chief Financial Officer), and the Attorney General, who argued their case, join the Council in its support of budget autonomy. And, perhaps most importantly, District voters voiced their support for budget autonomy with an overwhelming 83% vote in November of 2012.  Very few issues unite the District’s leaders and residents as the Council’s push for budget autonomy has.

On the federal level, the President of the United States supports budget autonomy, having argued for it in his past three budget submissions.  And even the House of Representatives’ amicus brief hinted that budget autonomy was inevitable.   

The judge in the case, Emmet G. Sullivan, said in his decision that “As a native Washingtonian, the Court is deeply moved by Plaintiff’s argument that the people of the District are entitled to the right to spend their own, local funds.”  From the bench, he analogized District taxpayers to the American hostages in Iran in 1979, stating that instead of the 444 days the hostages were held, District taxpayers had faced injustice for forty years without budget autonomy.

In spite of what appears to be solid support for budget autonomy, it is disappointing that it is not yet a reality and the Council is committed to pursuing any available pathway toward greater self-determination for District residents.  We believe our action was in the best interest of the citizens of the District of Columbia and remain optimistic because of the now nearly unanimous consensus that budget autonomy is not just morally right, but also increasingly inevitable. 

Judge Emmet G. Sullivan’s opinion is available here.