- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Mayor Vincent C. Gray on Wednesday praised the insertion of language into a short-term federal spending plan that allows the District to use local funds for the fiscal year that begins on Saturday while Congress continues to debate its financial plan for 2012.

“I don’t think I can overstate the significance of what has been done,” Mr. Gray told D.C. Council members at a breakfast meeting on Wednesday. “This is the first time that this has ever happened and hopefully it will establish a precedent moving forward.”

The District does not enjoy full budget autonomy from Congress, making it vulnerable to budget disputes on Capitol Hill. City officials must prepare for the possibility that they will not be able to spend locally generated tax dollars in the event of a federal government shutdown — a recurring theme in a series of spending stalemates this year.

One such scare in April had city residents wondering if their trash would be picked up and if they could get away with parking illegally, because traffic enforcers were considered “non-essential” workers.

The Senate appeared to avert a federal government shutdown this weekend by approving a continuing resolution on Monday that is also expected to pass in the House.

Mr. Gray said Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, Missouri Republican who serves on the House Appropriations Committee, pushed D.C. language contained in the hotly debated resolution.

Mrs. Emerson, the chairman of the financial services and general government subcommittee, was born in the D.C. area and “has proven to be a good friend to the District,” Mr. Gray said.

Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown said he had spoken of D.C. budget autonomy with Mrs. Emerson about six months ago.

“She was very, very committed to doing whatever she could,” Mr. Brown said. “I think each of us owes her some gratitude for keeping her word.”

Former Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, a Republican who represented Virginia in Congress, also worked, pro bono, on the District’s behalf, the mayor said.

D.C. City Administrator Allen Lew had worked on a contingency plan for a possible government shutdown this weekend, but Mr. Gray noted it is all but certain the situation has been avoided.

The D.C. government spends numerous man-hours on contingency plans whenever stalemates in Congress threaten to shut down the federal government, offering another talking point for advocates who say the District deserves total budget autonomy and representation on Capitol Hill.

The recent continuing resolution expires on Nov. 18, setting up yet another battle of short-term spending and the threat of a shutdown.

“I think it will be an opportunity over the next 60 or more days to demonstrate that the District of Columbia, once again, is going to be able to manage itself,” Mr. Gray said.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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