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In a radical move of federal defiance, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray on Wednesday declared the District would continue operating as usual even if the federal government grinds to a halt Oct. 1.
Gray’s one-sentence letter to Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell read: “I am writing to inform you that I have determined that all operations of the government of the District of Columbia are ‘excepted’ activities essential to the protection of public safety, health and property and therefore will continue to be performed during a lapse in appropriations.”
The letter comes one day after a roundtable breakfast with the D.C. Council was spent brainstorming options for continuing to spend locally raised funds without a congressional appropriation. During the 90-minute meeting, D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan warned that criminal punishment could result.
Nathan’s office declined to comment on Gray’s most recent action. The attorney general’s legal advice to the mayor is confidential.
“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,” Gray said Wednesday about the decision to spend the city’s $8 billion local budget without congressional approval of the appropriation.
“Congress can’t even get its own fiscal house in order; they should be taking lessons from us rather than imposing needless suffering on us. I will not allow the safety and well-being of District residents to be compromised by Congress’ dysfunction,” Gray said.
The District of Columbia’s allies in Congress also declared their support for Gray’s action while vowing to keep working toward legislative solutions to keep the city running if Congress cannot reach a compromise by Sept. 30.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., said, “No member of Congress, myself included, should ever tell the District of Columbia what to do or how to spend its locally raised funds.”
She said she would not second-guess Gray’s authority under the Home Rule Act to act as the city’s CEO.
“The city is well aware of the legal and political risks of its actions,” Norton said. “The fact that the city has felt driven to circumvent the congressional process highlights the need for D.C. to be freed from being embroiled in federal matters and be granted autonomy over its own budget, as is the case of every other state, and other locality and territory in the country.”