Budget autonomy plaintiff Phil Mendelson
Budget autonomy plaintiff Phil Mendelson

So much for that idea. Despite a 2013 referendum, the District can’t just grant itself budget autonomy, according to a federal judge’s opinion issued this morning.

The ruling is a loss for the D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, who sued Vince Gray and Chief Financial Officer Jeff DeWitt to make them abide by the referendum after D.C. Attorney General Irv Nathan said it had no legal effect. The Council will appeal, but a ruling on the appeal won’t come in time for the Council’s budget vote scheduled for later this month.

In his ruling, Judge Emmet G. Sullivan noted that despite his sympathy with the District as a native Washingtonian, he couldn’t rule in favor of the Council and remove the requirement that Congress approve the District’s budget.

“The Court is powerless to provide a legal remedy and cannot implement budget autonomy for the District,” Sullivan writes.

In a statement, Mendelson said that he would push for budget autonomy  “through other avenues.” Pro-budget autonomy group D.C. Vote called the ruling “a sad Gray administration legacy.”

Update, 12:25 p.m.: In a statement, Gray says he’ll “forcefully advocate” for achieving budget autonomy some other way.

“Today’s ruling is bittersweet, because there is no fiercer advocate for budget autonomy in the District of Columbia than me,” Gray says. “However, given the concerns I have continually expressed, I’m not surprised by the ruling. As I have said all along, we need to gain the freedom to spend our own money legally.”

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