Tonight Mayor Vincent Gray addressed the government shutdown created crisis for the residents of the District of Columbia with an eloquent and passionate speech that asked Congress to allow the District to spend its own money to serve its residents during the United States of America federal government shutdown.
Gray spoke before a capacity audience of men, women, and children who rose to their feet in applause as the city leader came to the stage at 6:30 p.m. With every available seat taken, Gray looked out across the crowd at the Friendship Public Charter School and without attacking any group or party the city leader asked Congress to end the needless suffering of District of Columbia residents by giving him the authority to use taxpayer owned funds to provide needed services to taxpaying customers in the District of Columbia.
“Good evening. Tonight, once again, the 632,000 residents of the District of Columbia find ourselves trapped in a terrible and unprecedented predicament. What’s worse and, frankly, more galling, is that this predicament is one we had no hand in making, and one from which we can be rescued only by a legislature in which we have no voting voice. That legislature is, of course, the United States Congress, which right now seems hopelessly stalemated over a number of partisan issues.” Gray said.
The District of Columbia is the only city in America that is not allowed to use its own funds for basic city services. “Now, any reasonable person might ask themselves: why on Earth would the 632,000 people who call the nation’s capital home not be able to fund our own city services with our own tax dollars during a federal shutdown? After all, our budget is just like those of any other state or big city in the country. The vast majority of our budget is supported by our own revenues from the District’s income taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, licensing fees and other funds. And this revenue goes to fund regular city services – such as paying teachers, police officers, firefighters and garbage collectors,” Gray said.
As the audience respectfully listened to every word, Gray made it clear that the crisis facing the District of Columbia was not an exaggeration. “We have several hundred million that we can – and have – been using to keep the District government functioning since the federal shutdown began on October 1st. We have our Budget Office staff, our Chief Financial Officer and his staff, and lawyers in the Office of the Attorney General working furiously to find out how we can access as many dollars as legally possible to continue the operations of the District government as long as possible during this shutdown. But those funds won’t last forever. After all, it costs nearly $20 million a day to run our government. We are now nearing the end of Day 10 of the federal shutdown — and this length of time for the District to be barred from using our own funds is unprecedented, “
As students from the DCPS sat quietly listening to their fate in the government shutdown, Gray explained in plain English terms that without the budget autonomy the students in the audience would suffer. “And, very soon, we won’t be able to make our scheduled quarterly payment of roughly $150 million to the District’s 66 public charter schools – schools that now educate over 35,000, or 43 percent, of our public-school students. That’s why we’re here tonight at Friendship Public Charter School’s Chamberlain Campus. Most charter schools don’t have sufficient cash reserves to help them ride this out – and they will have to begin delaying paychecks to teachers and principals. Some have said they will have to close, and some schools may even take a financial hit from which they won’t be able to recover. People who work hard every day at the hugely important job of educating our children should not be the victims of our city’s ridiculous lack of budget independence,” Gray.
The District of Columbia is unique because of a federal law that makes D.C. a federal agency when it comes to a federal shutdown. The law is the Anti-Deficiency Act and it states that during a shutdown, federal employees can’t work unless their jobs are essential to protecting public safety, health or property. Gray saved city services when he declared many city workers as essential. DC Public Schools and DC Public Libraries have remained open during the shutdown because of the action taken by Gray.
However, unlike any American city, the District of Columbia must have the approval of the United States Congress before the city can spend its own locally raised budget. The government shutdown placed a burden on the District of Columbia that no American city had to face. Gray explained to the audience that this unique status has placed the city in the crisis mode of being forced to send teachers and principals home unless Congress acts to give the District budget autonomy.
“Now, many people have asked why the District is treated this way when it comes to spending our own money. I have never gotten anything approaching a reasonable answer to that question. And that’s why, yesterday, we gathered on Capitol Hill to demand quick action – because we are facing very dire consequences if Congress and the President do not act very soon to free us to spend our own local tax dollars in the midst of this stalemate,” Gray said.
Closing precious stone monuments is one awful result of the government shutdown; however, sending innocent DCPS students home is quite another. Mothers and fathers rose to their feet when Gray said that he would fight to keep the DC Public Schools open and to provide services for city residents.
Note: this is one of ten articles on the plan to save the District in the government shutdown crisis. The crisis facing the poor and disabled will be featured in the next article as the government shutdown continues.
Examiner.com will remain on the story until the government reopens and the schools are safe.