District of Columbia:

Local Budget Autonomy Amendment Act of 2012

GAO-16-663T: Published: May 12, 2016. Publicly Released: May 12, 2016.

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This testimony discusses our January 30, 2014 opinion concerning the effect of the District of Columbia's Local Budget Autonomy Amendment Act of 2012 (Budget Autonomy Act). In December 2012, the Council of the District of Columbia enacted the Budget Autonomy Act. The Mayor of the District of Columbia signed the measure in January 2013, and District voters approved it in April 2013. In the District of Columbia Home Rule Act, Congress established the District Government and delineated its budget process. Through the Budget Autonomy Act, the Council of the District of Columbia and District voters attempt to change the federal government's role in this budget process by removing Congress from the appropriation process of most District funds and by removing the President from the District's budget formulation process.

In the opinion, we concluded that provisions of the Budget Autonomy Act that attempt to change the federal government's role in the District's budget process have no legal effect. The District of Columbia Home Rule Act, as well as the Antideficiency Act and the Budget and Accounting Act, serve and protect Congress's constitutional power "to exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever" over the District, as well as its constitutional power of the purse. We concluded, therefore, that without affirmative congressional action otherwise, the requirements of the Antideficiency Act continue to apply and District officers and employees may not obligate or expend funds except in accordance with appropriations enacted by Congress. The District Government also remains bound by the Budget and Accounting Act, which requires it to submit budget estimates to the President.

GAO does not take a view on the merits of Congress granting greater budget autonomy to the District. This is a matter within Congress's discretion under its constitutional powers. Under the framework that the Constitution has established, only Congress has power to determine the nature of the District's budget process. In the Home Rule Act, Congress clearly established that it continues to retain sole authority to appropriate amounts for the District. If Congress wishes to change the District's budget process it may, of course, do so by enacting appropriate legislation. The analysis and conclusions in our January 2014 opinion are consistent with Congress's constitutional power to legislate over the District and with the laws that Congress has enacted pursuant to that authority.

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