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Throughout the government shutdown, D.C. officials loudly complained that their budget was unfairly being held hostage by debates they had no say in. But as part of the agreement that ended the shutdown on Wednesday night, D.C. is being given the authority to spend money from its 2014 budget, regardless of whether the federal government is open or not.
The agreement passed by the House and Senate only funds federal government agencies through January 15, setting up yet another possible date on which partisan battles could shut down the government. The agreement exempts D.C., though, allowing the government to spend money it budgeted for the 2014 fiscal year, which ends on September 30, 2014.
Though D.C. passes its own budget, it must still be approved by Congress. When that doesn't happen, D.C. runs the risk of having to stop services to residents. That, says Mayor Vince Gray, is an unacceptable burden on the city.
“The health, safety, and welfare of 632,000 District residents should never be a bargaining chip in a debate over the federal budget. I’m relieved and thankful that we will not have to worry for the rest of the fiscal year about becoming collateral damage if, God forbid, the federal government is again forced to shut down," said Gray in a statement.
During the recent shutdown D.C. officials relied on a $144 million reserve fund to keep services open, though they said they would have run out of money from that fund had the shutdown continued into a fourth week. Despite being able to use those funds to keep libraries open and trash pickup on its regular schedule, D.C. was forced to delay payments to Medicaid providers, Metro and public charter schools.
D.C. officials have long demanded that the city's budget, the majority of which comes from locally raised revenue, be decoupled from the federal budget. In April, D.C. residents overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the Home Rule Charter offering city officials more flexibility in spending local dollars, but congressional Republicans have said that the referendum has no legal standing.
D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton has worked with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) on a bill that would permanently exempt D.C. from federal budget battles, allowing the city to spend its money as soon as its budgeted.
"As Congress has now recognized, the District is not a federal agency, and our residents, visitors and businesses should not be forced to endure extreme hardships no other city or state in our nation has to face as a result of these standoffs," said Gray.