by Daniel Solomon
Almost three years ago, voters in Forest Hills and throughout the District overwhelmingly supported Referendum 8, which gave DC control of how we raise and spend local tax dollars without interference from Congress.
Congress has chosen to delegate its authority and responsibility over the District’s affairs to a distinct local government. This Court is unable to interfere with that lawful delegation of authority and exercise of that delegated authority by the Council, the Mayor, and the citizens of the District of Columbia.
Judge Holeman disagreed sharply with the legal arguments of DC’s Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey DeWitt and the earlier ruling of U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan in the case. Holeman held that the Home Rule Charter empowered the District government and its residents to pursue budget autonomy when the financial circumstances of the District supported such a position. And that time is now. He rested his conclusion on the fact that Congress was given the opportunity to reject Budget Autonomy, as it can any DC law, and that it failed to do so.
Within hours of the issuance of Judge Holeman’s decision, DeWitt announced: “Now that we have received direction from the Superior Court, the city can develop its budget independently and not as a Federal agency.”
In short, the fight is over and budget autonomy for DC is the law of the land. In the months ahead, DC will be working on its first independent budget.
Under the new ruling, the District will be able to establish its own fiscal year, saving millions spent annually in borrowing to meet budgetary needs prior to Congressional approval of our local budget. The District will be free of the congressionally-imposed riders that prevented us from spending local funds on such activities as needle exchanges and providing abortion services to low-income women. Budget autonomy will also enable the District to enact laws and regulations to implement marijuana legalization.
While Congress may still exercise its veto power over local laws, including the annual budget, doing so is more difficult than simply placing a rider on a spending bill. Congress may still be able to make mischief by means of its control over the ten percent of our budget that comes from federal dollars.
Daniel Solomon is a Forest Hills resident and a DC Vote board member.