Appearing in a rare assemblage as the self-styled “Big Four,” leaders of the Washington region’s largest local governments lambasted Congress for the ongoing shutdown as it moved toward a deal Wednesday.
District Mayor Vincent C. Gray, Fairfax County Board Chairman Sharon Bulova, Prince George’s County Executive L. Baker III and Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett detailed impacts ranging from closed parks to lost tax revenue after a 75-minute closed-door meeting hosted by Gray at the John A. Wilson Building.
“The inaction is killing us,” said Bulova, who said her county has taken a hit to sales tax and business licensing revenue in recent weeks.
For the counties, faltering tax revenue is the most pressing consequence from furloughs that have affected some of the roughly 624,000 federal employees in the region, as well as many more who work for affected federal contractors.
Fairfax has largely been able to maintain services, Bulova said, but if the shutdown were to stretch into November, federally funded programs such as housing vouchers, substance abuse programs and aid to pregnant women could be affected.
“Right now, our state and local governments are eating through reserves to keep these programs alive," she said.
The District has not been so lucky. Gray also cited lost revenue, including taxes on a roughly $2 million decline in hotel bookings. But the city has seen more substantial service impacts.
Because its local budget is uniquely appropriated by Congress, it has been forced to meet virtually all of its spending needs from a $144 million reserve fund. City employees have remained on the job and received their paychecks earlier this week, but other payments have been frozen, including a Metro subsidy transfer and reimbursements to Medicaid contractors.
Gray renewed his calls for Congress to grant the city greater spending autonomy — and his regional neighbors joined in. The mayor said after the news conference that he had asked for their statements of support during the meeting: “I didn’t think I had to, but of course I did.”
Baker and Leggett described losing significant income tax revenues during the shutdown period and expressed doubt that their counties would be made completely whole, even if Congress offers furloughed employees back pay as expected.
Leggett said the $500,000 a day tax impact has placed a new burden on a county budget that was decimated in recent years by the global economic slowdown: “We thought we would see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “The light we’re seeing is an oncoming train.”
The local leaders spoke not long after Senate leaders announced a bipartisan deal that promises to reopen the government as soon as Thursday. But none of the local leaders, all Democrats, expressed much optimism about the deal. And all were critical, to varying degrees, of the process that had produced it.
“I think, frankly, this sends such a poor message to our own nation and to the world in terms of how our nation is doing business,” Gray said. “People are just shaking their head. Is this the same United States of America we have known for decades and centuries, because it just doesn’t seem the same.”
Bulova called the shutdown “irresponsible,” while Baker expressed frustration that it was rooted in an effort by congressional Republicans to roll back the federal health-care overhaul.
“This is self-induced,” Baker said. “That’s the thing that gets all of us as we look around here. Well, we didn’t have to have this. . . . For us, we’re scratching our head.”