If Congress and President Obama fail to reach an agreement by next week, the impasse that led to a federal shutdown may lead to the shutdown of the District of Columbia government. Wednesday, Oct 8, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray sent a letter to Obama and congressional leaders requesting a legislative exemption to the shutdown and demanding a meeting.
The District of Columbia is unique among American cities. Federal legislation established the city, its boundaries and form of government. Although the city later gained the right to govern itself, its finances remain under congressional control — a sensitive subject among local officials and leaders.
The city cannot legally spend its own, locally raised, tax dollars apart from the federal budget. So, when the federal government shutdown Oct. 1, the D.C. government should have closed its doors as well – but it didn’t.
D.C. officials defied Congress and came up with a temporary solution to keep the local government open — even if for a short period. It financed operations with contingency funds. Eight days into the shutdown, D.C.’s funds are running out. In another week, the city’s reserve fund will be depleted.
In his letter, Mayor Gray warned that a city shutdown could have dire consequences. Trash would go uncollected (raising an immediate public health risk), public charter schools could close, and payments to Medicaid providers would not be made – creating a possible health risk for thousands of people.
More importantly, the nation’s capital would not be able to spend federal dollars allocated for security measures. The implications of a less secure Washington D.C. could be far-reaching, especially in light of the recent shootings at the Navy Yard and high-speed chase from the White House to the U.S. Capitol building.
“I have done all that I possibly can to ensure that the health, safety and welfare of District residents is not endangered by a crisis that our city has had no hand in creating,” Gray wrote. But time is running out – and, soon, I will have exhausted every resource available to me to protect our residents, our workers, and our visitors.
“Many leaders on both sides of the aisle, including President Obama, Majority Leader Reid, Majority Leader Cantor and House Oversight Committee Chair Issa, have already acknowledged the common sense of giving the District budget autonomy for our local funds – and yet our residents, workers and visitors continue to suffer.”
D.C.’s fight for budget autonomy is not new. Practically, since the enactment of the Home Rule Act, the District of Columbia has fought to have true home rule. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, Mayor Gray, the D.C. Council and a host of organizations have continued to struggle for budget autonomy.
The city has an operating budget of $10 billion, with a surplus of 1.5 billion. Unlike years past, the city’s budget is primarily comprised of locally raised tax dollars and the city has reliably managed its finances since the days of Control Board oversight.
Solely at issue is the control Congress continues to have over the local government. No other city in the United States is subject to such federal oversight. No other city in the country has faced the loss of basic municipal or state services as a result of the federal government shutdown.
Once again, the District of Columbia government and its residents are caught in the middle of a political quagmire, with no immediate end in sight.
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