Single Vote at Brief Meeting Holds Unprecedented Budget Autonomy Significance

When is a second vote also a first? When a recent court decision allows for an unprecedented and significant second vote on a piece of legislation the Council has since the dawn of Home Rule only voted on a single time.

The Background

Earlier this month, a US Court of Appeals decision vacated a US District Court decision that had ruled against the Council’s budget autonomy stance based on procedural concerns, and lifted a stay on the law’s implementation. The Court of Appeals decision sent the case back to DC Superior Court, but with the stay lifted, the budget autonomy initiative passed by 83% of District voters remains in force as District law.

Every year, the District’s budget consists of two key pieces of legislation, the Budget Request Act (which includes agency-by-agency funding specifics) and the Budget Support Act (which includes legislative changes needed to implement the budget). Ever since Home Rule was granted in 1974, the Council has voted on the Budget Request Act just once, and the Budget Support Act two times every budget cycle.

However, in a post-budget autonomy world, the Budget Request Act loses its unique single-vote status. No longer viewed as solely an element of the federal budget, the Budget Request Act is now seen like any other piece of local District legislation, and as such, requires two votes by the Council.

Why It Matters

With all the talk of single vs. double votes, and component elements of DC budget legislation, it is important not to lose sight of the very real dollars-and-cents impact of this seemingly administrative matter.

Using our current circuitous budget process adds a third of a year to an already long budget timeline. All of the critical and expert budget estimates used in the development of the budget are out of date by the time the budget winds its way through the unnecessarily complicated process. Additionally, the current process requires our fiscal year to mirror the federal fiscal year. This puts the District out of step with the fiscal year favored by many other state and local governments.  It also creates a situation where each of the District’s fiscal years unnecessarily straddles two school years, and is out of synch with the flow of revenue based on the payment schedules for income and property taxes. As District financial officials have stated for years, the fact that we have been able to maintain the stellar financial record that we have, despite the significant hurdles our serpentine funding process requires, is a tribute to the skill and dedication of these officials.

After stating that the action undertaken at today’s meeting was fully consistent with the law, and would do nothing to put the District’s finances at risk, the Council voted unanimously in their second vote supporting the Budget Request Act.  This one procedural vote, at a brief meeting, nonetheless made history.

For a summary of votes taken at this meeting, please click here.