WAMU 88.5 : Metro Connection

How Long Can D.C. Defy the Shutdown?

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The D.C. government is open for business in the John A. Wilson building... for now.
The D.C. government is open for business in the John A. Wilson building... for now.

While federal government buildings around town are closed, the John A. Wilson Building — home of D.C.’s city government — is going strong.

Past federal government shutdowns have led to a cessation of city services, from parks to recreation centers to libraries to trash pickup. That’s because the District is considered a federal agency for budget purposes. The District must have its spending approved by Congress; so when the federal government shuts down, the District shuts down.

But in this case, Mayor Vincent has decided to declare all city government employees “essential” — not just the police and firefighters that usually stay on during a shutdown, but everyone.

“And so that means that the city is open and running,” says WAMU 88.5 District reporter Patrick Madden. “But what happens next, it’s still unclear.”

To pay for everyone to work right now the city is tapping into its emergency and contingency cash funds, or “rainy day funds.” These funds can provide approximately two weeks of pay for all employees. After that the city would have move in to a more traditional shutdown mode where just the essential, critical employees are on duty.

Madden says while there’s always tension between the District and the federal government, “that tension is usually heightened when we have these situations like a federal government shutdown, where the District really gets the short end of the stick. The city, unlike any other city in the U.S., can’t do trash pickup, it can’t have its libraries open or its parks. So whenever these types of situations occur there always is increased tension.”

As to whether this move by Mayor Gray helps or hurts the District cause is up for debate, Madden says.

“It sounds like Republican Rep. Daryl Issa, head of this committee that oversees D.C., is on board with what Mayor Gray is doing,” Madden says. “So that is a very important step and could end up helping the District get more budget autonomy.”

And more budget autonomy, Madden says, potentially means a closer step toward having a vote in Congress.

So generally, Madden says, “I think this is a big win for the city and for the mayor and for the council because it really showed that they stood up to Congress.

“They stood up for the District and said ‘we’re not going to be treated like any other federal agency. We are a city. We are spending our own locally-raised tax dollars to provide services to our residents.’”


[Music: "Subterranean Homesick Blues" by Michael Franti from Chimes of Freedom]

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