The District of Columbia is standing up to the federal government. While the feds continue toying with a potential Oct. 1 government shutdown, Mayor Vincent Gray has stated that the city won’t be taking part in any government hiatus.
“I have determined that everything the District government does – protecting the health, safety and welfare of our residents and visitors – is essential,” said Mayor Gray Sept. 25.
In the past, a federal government shutdown would also mean a shutdown for D.C. government, as the District is not a state and is thus directly vulnerable to Congress’s decisions. The District’s organizations deemed crucial – such as public schools and police and fire departments– would have remained open, but the libraries, recreation centers and trash services would stop operations.
In accordance with Gray’s statement, however, it seems that the D.C. government’s estimated 30,000 employees will keep on working without Congress’s consent.
“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 continued.
“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’s dysfunction.”
D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton sided with Gray, sharing her views in a statement published Sept. 25: “No member of Congress, myself included, should ever tell the District of Columbia what to do or how to spend its locally raised funds,” said Norton. “The District government is not a federal agency and should not be treated as such for any purpose, especially federal appropriations.”
District Council chairman Phil Mendelson and at-large councilmember David Grosso are both working to release D.C. from the Federal government’s jurisdiction. Mendelson is to bring forth his own bill on Oct. 1, which will further support the continuation of work within the city. Grosso suggests D.C. should expand upon this rebellion and begin ignoring a piece of the Home Rule Charter requiring 30 days of congressional review for D.C. legislation.
Not everyone is in harmony with Gray’s voicing for change. Former D.C. U.S. Attorney Joe DiGenova is among the opponents. DiGenova points out that Gray’s decision defies the Antideficiency Act, which prohibits federal employees from participating in spending greater than available funds, unless authorized by law. “If the city thinks that by violating this law it hopes to make its case for self-rule, this is idiocy of immense proportions,” DiGenova said.
D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan has warned that Gray’s decision could result in fines and jail time for D.C. government employees. “I would point out they have taken oath to uphold the law, and if you engage in civil disobedience you have to take the consequences and the victims of the consequences could as well be the District,” Nathan said.
It is uncertain if D.C. residents can expect continued access to recreational centers, libraries and trash collection if the federal government shuts down Monday. However, D.C. may be freed from similar federal government bullying come January 2014. At that time, the proposed D.C. budget autonomy will take effect, leaving D.C. liberated from “Congress’s dysfunction.”