Budget autonomy plaintiff Phil Mendelson

The District could face a self-imposed shutdown or even the return of the financial control board if the D.C. Council passes a budget later this year that follows the 2013 budget autonomy referendum, Vince Gray and Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey DeWitt warned in letters to Council chairman Phil Mendelson this afternoon.

While Gray’s administration and attorney general Irv Nathan have long described the referendum as invalid, this is the first time that DeWitt has said he won’t authorize payments under a budget autonomy budget.

Blame budget season for this latest budget impasse, just months after the District dodged the federal government shutdown.

Gray wants the entire budget that he sent to the Council on April 3 approved according to home rule charter provisions: passed with a single vote by the end of 56 calendar days on May 29, then sent for presidential and congressional approval. But a vote schedule from Mendelson suggests that he’s planning two votes on the budget before sending it for congressional approval, a change in the approval process inspired by the autonomy referendum that’s meant to take control of the District’s budget out of congressional control.

If Mendelson passes his budget on a second vote, Gray writes in his letter, Gray would veto the budget, sending instead whatever the budget looks like at the end of the first 56 days.

In his own letter to Mendelson, DeWitt says that he worries spending money under Mendelson’s budget would violate the Antideficiency Act (that again!). Instead of breaking the law, DeWitt writes that he would instruct Office of the Chief Financial Officer employees not to spend any money at the start of the new budget on Oct. 1, which could lead to a city government shutdown.

DeWitt’s refusal to make payments could, Gray claims, lead to the return of the financial control board because of provisions that allow for its reinstatement if the District can’t make salary or benefits payments.

Mendelson wasn’t available for immediate comment, but pro-referendum group D.C. Vote said in a statement that they’re confident “the next mayor” will support it.

Update, 5:25 p.m.: Mendelson says that voting only once on the budget would be a violation of the budget autonomy referendum that, he points out to LL, Gray signed himself.

“I think we’re going to work this out, and I’m confident that the government will continue to function,” Mendelson says.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery