DC council sues Mayor Gray, CFO over law

WASHINGTON (WUSA9/AP) -- The District of Columbia Council filed a lawsuit Thursday against Mayor Vincent Gray and the city's chief financial officer.

D.C. voters approved a referendum in 2012 that allows the city to spend billions local tax dollars without congressional approval.

Gray supported the measure but said he had questions about its legality. The referendum became law after Congress made no effort to invalidate it. The Government Accountability Office then said the law is invalid. Gray's administration then decided it would not enforce the measure.

D.C. City Council Chair Phil Mendelson said he and "overwhelming majority, if not all of the council" is behind the suit. Mendelson added that Gray and the others are relying on a flawed legal analysis.

"This issue of budget autonomy is about local dollars, I want to be very clear about this. We are not saying to congress that we want to appropriate federal dollars," said Mendelson.

"It is unfortunate that the government could not unite and enforce the law as it was passed by the Council, signed by the Mayor, ratified by District voters, and reviewed by Congress," said Councilmember David Catania in a statement issued Thursday. Catania is running for mayor as an independent.

Bypassing the federal government, said Georgetown University law professor David Super, would also mean that the city's budget would not get caught up in the politics of Congress.

"If there's a fight over the war in Afghanistan - that could hold it up. The District isn't at war with Afghanistan, but any number of extraneous issues have held up the District's budget in the past," said Professor Super.

D.C.'s budget year is currently aligned with Congress' budget year. That alone, said Mendelson, costs the District millions of dollars.

"It is more economical for us to be able to align our fiscal budget with the school year. Almost every jurisdiction's fiscal year starts on July 1st. Our's starts on October 1st. We actually lose dollars because of that - it increases the amount of short term borrowing we have to do," explained Mendelson.

Catania added, "I am hopeful that [the court] will rule in favor of the District being able to do what every other local jurisdiction in the country is permitted to do: spend locally-raised funds as the citizens of the District and their elected representatives see fit."

But all sides assure that this lawsuit will be void of the finger pointing, name calling and heated exchanges that typically come with lawsuits.

"Anytime anyone goes into court there is an adversarial situation. But the fact is as you know all the city's officials believe that we should have budget autonomy," said Mendelson, stressing that the lawsuit is about finding a remedy, nothing more.

Professor Super agreed, "It is seeking clarification, no one is trying to throw anyone out of office."


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