D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray declared the District's intent to defy a possible federal government shutdown by deeming all employees essential personnel — but it's unclear how far other city leaders will push the rebellion.
The District's defiant contingency plan, which seeks to keep the city's roughly 30,000 employees at work in the event of a federal government shutdown Oct. 1, was submitted Wednesday to the federal director of the Office of Budget and Management. The office, which is responsible for providing executive branch agencies with instructions on how to prepare for and operate during a shutdown, has not commented on the plan.
"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," Mr. Gray wrote.
Because the District is a federal enclave, its budget is tied to the federal appropriations process, leaving the District vulnerable if lawmakers in Congress fail to resolve their differences over a federal spending plan.
But the assertion that all government functions are essential appears to defy the federal Antideficiency Act that mandates a shutdown if a budget agreement is not reached.
"As the Antideficiency Act states, emergency exception does not authorize the continuation of ongoing, regular functions of government, the suspension of which would not imminently threaten the safety of human life or the protection of property," according to documents issued by the budget office for shutdown preparation.
Violation of the law puts government employees and officials at risk for fines and jail time. Mr. Gray's spokesman, Pedro Ribeiro, said officials plan to deal with any federal opposition, "when we get to it."
Though several D.C. Council members have expressed support to defy the federal government in the face of a shutdown, it was unclear whether the officials who hold the city's purse strings would agree to fund operations.
Estimating that it costs between $17 million and $19 million a day to keep the D.C. government and services open, the office of the chief financial officer declined to comment on whether it would cut the checks.
"We're looking to the attorney general for guidance," spokeswoman Natalie Wilson said.
In the meantime, the office of D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan, which provides city leaders legal advice on the matter, isn't talking.
"We aren't going to speculate now about possible eventualities," spokesman Ted Gest said.
Under previous plans, which were last rolled out in 2011 amid concern over a government shutdown, some employees such as public safety workers, teachers at the city's schools, and health inspectors could have stayed on the job.
Other basic city services would have been suspended with libraries and the Department of Motor Vehicles closed and trash collection halted.
The last time the city government shut down was in 1995. But it was spared a second shutdown that year when Congress passed legislation allowing the District to spend its own money when the federal government shut down.
"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," Mr. Gray said in a statement.
"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."
Whatever the outcome, this would likely be the last time the District faces this type of potential shutdown. In January, a voter-approved charter amendment granting the city budget autonomy takes effect and it will free the city from Congress' fiscal calender and let the city set its own fiscal calendar and spend its own local tax dollars without congressional approval.
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