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In case of shutdown, emergency bill would keep D.C. running

Andres Rodriguez
Mayor Vincent C. Gray released a statement Wednesday explaining his decision to declare district government operations essential during a shutdown. Pictured above is his office on Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

WASHINGTON – The District of Colombia plans to take matters into its own hands to prevent city services from closing if the federal government shuts down on Tuesday.

The D.C. Council has scheduled a meeting for Tuesday, in which it plans to introduce emergency legislation that would declare all District employees essential – circumventing current law in which non-essential services like trash collection would be discontinued, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said in a phone interview Tuesday.

“It will give us enough time,” Mendelson said, adding that he expects the bill to pass unanimously. The legislation, not yet drafted, will include a simple resolution and bill and would allow the council to spend city funds without congressional approval for up to 90 days.

Under the 1973 Home Rule Act, the D.C. government requires the approval of Congress before spending its annual budget of $6.5 billion, according to David Umansky, a public information officer with the Office of the Chief Financial Officer.

Umansky said it is a “fiction” that the District receives funding from the federal government outside of what is provided to other cities. “The only additional pay is to help defray the cost of demonstrations,” he said.

The council chairman said it is appropriate they act by emergency legislation. “The District government services are an essential function to citizens and workers – and therefore the District government will stay open.”

Mayor Vincent C. Gray said in a Wednesday press release he supports the decision.

“I will not allow the safety and well-being of District residents to be compromised by Congress’ dysfunction,” Gray said.

Gray also sent a letter Wednesday to Silvia Mathew Burwell, director of the Office of Management and Budget, stating all of the District’s governments operations will continue because they are “’expected’ activities essential to the protection of public safety, health, and property.”

Gray said in the release, “It is ridiculous that a city of 632,000 people – a city where we have balanced our budget for 18 consecutive years and have a rainy day fund of well over a billion dollars – cannot spend its residents’ own local tax dollars to provide them the services they’ve paid for without Congressional approval.”

Reach reporter Andrés Rodríguez at [email protected] or 202-326-9871.

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In case of shutdown, emergency bill would keep D.C. running