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Sherwood's Notebook: Open for (Some) Business

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Many people have been praising Mayor Vincent Gray and the D.C. Council for bucking the national government and staying open during the federal shutdown.

    But it’s not as easy as the public statements make it seem, and delayed paychecks could be in the offing for city workers.

    Last Friday, there was an angry and tense meeting at which D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan and City Administrator Allen Lew bluntly told the mayor’s budget director Eric Goulet that the mayor was severely restricted in what funds could be spent. A follow-up meeting on Monday cleared up some of the confusion, but the mayor may have to make an “emergency” declaration to access more cash.

    On Monday, the city tax office announced it would suspend individual and business tax refunds. The city generally issues a few hundred of them every workday. So some businesses and individuals will be missing out until the federal shutdown ends.

    And Mayor Gray told NBC4 on Monday that the city was searching its reserve accounts to spend money. The payroll itself is $100 million every two weeks. Overall, the city spends about $18 million a day on payroll, goods and services.

    “The cash issue we are still assessing at this stage,” he said. “And we’ve been looking at whether we can access other areas of cash for the city to stretch this out if [the federal shutdown] continues.”

    A spokesperson for the mayor said it’s unlikely the District would have to shut down all nonessential activities even if money runs low, but everyone is hoping the federal impasse ends soon. It’s cheaper to run the government by keeping it open rather than shutting it down and figuring out the spending mess that would create.

    “I hope everyone understands that the District of Columbia should never be caught in the middle of this,” Gray told us. The city has long lobbied Congress to free locally raised revenue from federal restrictions. That would mean the city could spend about $7 billion of its $11 billion budget without worrying about what happens on Capitol Hill.\

    ■ Evans left out? Ward 2 D.C. Council member Jack Evans complained to the mayor’s office that he was being excluded from money meetings. Evans is chair of the Finance and Revenue Committee and likely could give some guidance to the mayor’s office on what could be done.

    But Evans is also a candidate for mayor, so maybe that had something to do with it. Still, if you’re talking dollars and sense, and the council has any say, you can be sure Evans will remember who didn’t call or include him.

    ■ Campaign donations. All the candidates for mayor are rushing to collect contributions to include in their Oct. 10 filings. Money is not a guarantee of success (ask former Mayor Adrian Fenty), but it does give you a better chance to state your case.

    As of this moment, Mayor Gray is still not showing his hand on whether he’ll run for re-election. There is that matter of the federal criminal investigation into the 2010 campaign.

    ■ A real flood. We finally got some heavy rains this week. But it was not the kind officials worry about in downtown Washington.

    The planned levee at 17th Street and Constitution Avenue is being built to keep any Potomac River flood from inundating parts of downtown and the White House. But management problems have forced a change in contractors.

    Now D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton says the long-delayed project is back on track. “The resumption of construction … has become increasingly urgent because of unprecedented storms in the east,” Norton wrote. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers now says the project will be done by late summer 2014, according to Norton.

    The project is costing about $6 million. Construction began back in 2010, and the wait has frustrated Norton. “Particularly when it comes to the National Mall and monuments, among the nation’s priceless sites, the delay … has been unfortunate,” she said.
    We’re reliably told that Norton, who can show a flash of anger, has been blunter in her meetings on this subject.

    ■ Shutdown victim. U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen has canceled a one-on-one interview with the Notebook slated for Oct. 15 at the Hill Center on Capitol Hill. All of the nation’s U.S. attorneys have been asked by the Justice Department to curtail their public activities until the shutdown is over. We hope to reschedule soon.

    ■ More “securicrat” notes. Last week we mentioned some dense language in a homeland security magazine. This week, the bureaucracy offers a few very long titles. Here’s one: “Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) National Continuity Programs Assistant Administrator.” In the same news release was another gem: “Office of Response & Recovery Response Operations Division Urban Search and Rescue Chief.” The two officials were about to testify before Congress at a hearing. The committee name? “House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management.” Whew.


    Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.