The daily work of local government — trash pickup, teaching in public schools and more — will continue without a hitch in the nation’s capital if the federal government shuts down this week amid disputes between the White House and Congress over spending on a border wall, D.C. officials said.
Kevin Donahue, deputy mayor for public safety and justice, said the District would not be forced to repeat the scramble to continue operating that ensued in 2013, when the federal government shut down for 16 days after conservative Republicans refused to fund the government unless the Affordable Care Act was gutted.
The shutdown threatened the District, whose budget is tied to that of the federal government. Then-Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) managed to keep the city open by dipping into budget reserves and designating every one of its tens of thousands of employees as “essential to the protection of public safety, health and property,” which insulated them from the furloughs that affected roughly 800,000 federal workers.
Since then, however, the District has adopted a new interpretation of its budget autonomy — the ability to raise and spend local funds without congressional approval — and Congress has decided that the District’s budget should remain in effect during any standoffs over federal spending on Capitol Hill.
“Our budget has a degree of separation from the Congress that it did not have at the time of the last shutdown,” Donahue said Tuesday. “We believe, in the event of a shutdown, that there will be no effect on city services, nor will we need to take the extraordinary step of declaring all employees essential.”
That doesn’t mean District residents won’t notice effects if the federal government grinds to a halt.
Trash collection and maintenance for federal landmarks, such as the Mall, could cease during a shutdown. Donahue said that smaller, federally controlled parks throughout the city — such as Franklin Square downtown or Stanton Park on Capitol Hill — could also go untended, perhaps prompting extra effort from the city’s Department of Public Works.
In 2013, garbage and rats accumulated in some of those places, ultimately leading the District to spend $92,000 on cleanup during that October shutdown.
The broader economic and social effects of a government shutdown would also be keenly felt in a city where the federal workforce accounts for 1 in 4 jobs.
As the Friday deadline to pass a spending bill to keep the government open approaches, it remains unclear whether the GOP’s internecine battles over budget priorities will end in the kind of stalemate that resulted when Barack Obama occupied the White House.
Trump has publicly insisted that any new spending bill must include money for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, a core campaign promise he once asserted he would force Mexico to fund. But the idea is fiercely opposed by Democrats and is anathema to many Republicans, and the Trump administration signaled Monday that it was preparing to retreat from its earlier demand for wall funding to keep the government open.