New Taxpayer Lawsuit Challenges DC’s Expenditure of Taxpayer Funds without Congressional Appropriation
NOVEMBER 17, 2015
DC’s ‘Budget Autonomy Act’ Violates Federal Law Requiring Congressional Approval
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today that on November 6, 2015, it sued the Mayor and Chief Financial Officer of the District of Columbia on behalf of Clarice Feldman, a longtime taxpayer and resident of the District of Columbia, to prevent them from expending taxpayer money from a budget that has not been appropriated by Congress and presented to the President for signing. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (Clarice Feldman v. Muriel Bowser and Jeffrey S. DeWitt (No. 1:15-cv-01967)).
Federal law requires that D.C.’s annual budget not only be approved by a majority or two-thirds vote of the D.C. Council, but also by an affirmative appropriation passed by both Houses of Congress and presented to the president for signing. However, in 2013, D.C. passed the Budget Autonomy Act of 2012, which “purportedly grants the District authority to incur obligations and expend local tax and fee revenue without an appropriation passed by both Houses of Congress and presented to the President for signing.” In other words, D.C. has sought to remove appropriation authority from Congress and grant it to itself.
In 2014, federal litigation between the D.C. City Council and former D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (who believed that the law was illegal) led to a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Emmett Sullivan, finding the Budget Autonomy Act to be unlawful and permanently enjoining all parties from enforcing the law:
Despite [a] long history of seeking budget autonomy through Congress, the Council now argues that since the Home Rule Act was enacted in 1973, it has possessed the authority to grant itself control over its own local spending. This argument, which the Council advances for the first time in this litigation, simply cannot withstand judicial scrutiny. As more fully set forth below, it is contrary to the plain language of the Home Rule Act, which prohibits the Council from changing the role of the federal government in the appropriation of the total budget of the District. It cannot be reconciled with the legislative history of the Home Rule Act, during which Congress explicitly considered, and rejected, budget autonomy for the District. And it violates a separate federal statute, the Anti- Deficiency Act, which prohibits District employees from spending public money unless it has been appropriated by Congress.
Judge Sullivan’s ruling was appealed by D.C. Council. Before the appeal was decided, Mayor Gray was defeated by Muriel E. Bowser. The new mayor had voted for the budget law when she was a member of the D.C. Council and supported the filing of a lawsuit seeking its enforcement. As Mayor Bowser agreed with the City Council, she ended the Office of Mayor’s challenge of the law. Mayor Bowser filed a motion to dismiss the appeal for mootness and requested that the Appellate Court vacate the District Court’s judgment so that she could adhere to the Budget Autonomy Act. The U.S. Court of Appeals for District of Columbia Circuit granted Bowser’s request this past May. (Judicial Watch, on behalf of Ms. Feldman, opposed Bowser’s efforts in the Appeals Court.)
Although the only court to rule on the merits of the Budget Autonomy Act found the law to be unlawful, the District enacted its Fiscal Year 2016 Budget through the process established in the Budget Autonomy Act. The Judicial Watch lawsuit, therefore, seeks to have the Budget Autonomy Act once again declared unlawful and to prevent the D.C. government from expending taxpayer funds pursuant to the Fiscal Year 2016 Budget.
“Mayor Bowser and the rest of the D.C. government are wrong if they think they can violate federal law with impunity and ignore the U.S. Constitution, which gives Congress the power to ‘exercise exclusive legislation’ over the nation’s capital,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “This taxpayer lawsuit ensures that local District politicians can no longer misspend tax money in violation of the law. It bears repeating that it is a federal crime to spend federal dollars without congressional authorization.”