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The District is not a federal agency, and it shouldn’t be treated like one.
That’s the sentiment of emergency legislation passed Tuesday by the D.C. Council that authorizes the use of the city’s contingency funds to cover the payroll for roughly 32,000 municipal workers who are reporting to their jobs as usual, despite the shutdown of the federal government.
The vote comes after Mayor Vincent Gray sent a letter to the Office of Management and Budget notifying the administration of his intent to declare all employees “essential” in the event of a shutdown and require that they report to work even without a congressional appropriation authorizing the District’s budget.
Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said he proposed a vote “to make it clear, not just through the mayor’s statement, but through legislation that the government is essential and that we need to continue functioning.”
While the District receives federal funding for infrastructure, education and Medicaid, most of its spending comes from locally raised tax dollars. D.C. must submit its budget to Congress for approval through the appropriations process.
Gray appeared in the council chambers Tuesday, with the news that the OMB had posted his plan to its website, suggesting acceptance. Members of Congress, including House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., have cast doubt on the likelihood D.C. would be punished for its actions.
Gray called the shutdown a “wonderful opportunity to educate the rest of the nation” on D.C.’s financial process, and councilmembers thanked him for his fortitude.
Allies in Congress continue to fight for legislation to keep the District funded.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., has tried both short-term fixes to the language of the continuing resolution and a more comprehensive bill.
During a Tuesday news conference on the effects of the shutdown on federal workers, she reminded colleagues that the contingency funding D.C. is using could run out in a couple of weeks.
“No Republican or Democrat desires the unintended effect of shutting down the local government only because D.C.’s local balanced budget has not cleared the Congress,” Norton said.
The House has proposed funding agencies piecemeal, which would include D.C.’s budget, but the strategy is a non-starter in the Senate.