Here we go again. District residents, you know the drill.
Congress needs to agree on how to fund the government by Sept. 30 and, well, at this point, a government shutdown seems likely, according to experts. For those of us who live in the city, that means an extra hurdle to ensure that city government remains open. This time around, officials say they are ready and the city will operate as usual.
The District, because it is not a state or part of one, requires a federal appropriation to spend its budget, even though most of the city’s budget comes from locally generated taxes. During the 1995 government shutdown, many “non-essential” local services came to a halt, such as trash collection, libraries, the DMV and health inspectors.
When the 2013 government shutdown was imminent, city leaders contemplated whether they should defy the federal government and deem all city employees “essential” — effectively leaving the city government operating as usual. At the time, the city’s attorney general warned that this illegal idea was probably not the best one and could lead to fines and criminal prosecution. The city ultimately opted to tap into its $144 million contingency fund to keep the city running as normal.
But the city says it’s better prepared this time. When D.C. approved its fiscal 2016 budget, it included a provision that said the city could continue to operate at locally approved budget levels in the event of a government shutdown. (This latest budget turned into a controversial fight for budget autonomy, but the District did ultimately submit the budget to Congress as the law requires it to, and the budget made it through.)
D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton pushed to have a nearly identical measure tacked onto a 2015 appropriations bill, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by the president.
Here’s how the mayor’s office put it in an e-mail:
In the event of a shutdown, the District would continue to perform all vital services and functions. Last year’s Budget Request Act provides that we can continue to operate at the locally approved budget levels. Our position is that Budget Autonomy will be effective as law for the District’s next fiscal year. This will allow the District to spend local funds at the levels approved in the FY16 BRA until a continuing resolution or appropriations bill is approved – and allow us to spend funds on new programs and initiatives without restriction.
Still, just because D.C. employees have to go to work during the shutdown, it doesn’t mean the city won’t take a hit.
Federal workers and government contractors could be out of jobs, and the Panda Cam, for instance —which is operated by the Smithsonian’s National Zoo — would be powered down. The Mall and the Smithsonian museums will be closed, all of which typically draw in tourists and are a big boon to city coffers. And the Meridian Park drum circle? That’s federal land and a no-go as well.
On the plus side, if the 2013 government shutdown is any indication, there will be lots of food and drink specials throughout the city.
“The federal government is a vital part of the District’s community and economy,” mayoral spokeswoman Christina Harper wrote in an e-mail. “A shutdown would needlessly put tens of thousands of D.C. residents and employees livelihoods at risk – adversely impacting the District, the region and national economy. A prolonged shutdown could slow down our economy and impact our revenue collections.”