District of Columbia lawmakers approved emergency legislation Tuesday to keep tens of thousands of municipal workers on the job and collecting pay during a partial federal government shutdown.
The D.C. Council bill authorizes the government to tap a contingency fund to pay the roughly 32,000 city workers during the shutdown. The measure, along with a related decision by Mayor Vincent Gray to declare all local government operations essential, means that all municipal services - from trash collection to libraries - will continue uninterrupted in a city otherwise grappling with the impact of the partial federal shutdown.
"Everything is open for business today,'' a smiling Gray told reporters after the council vote.
Gray made a rare appearance in the D.C. Council chamber as councilmembers praised his stance in keeping local government open in spite of gridlock in Congress, which wields ultimate authority over the city's funding and laws.
"So frequently it's easy for visitors to come to our city, and say, `Well, we're visiting the monuments' and forget about the people that live here and the plight of the people that live here,'' Councilmember Anita Bonds said, adding that, "Wherever I go, people say, 'We're necessary, we're necessary.' And what it does is bring the dignity we want for the District for Columbia.''
The Council legislation permits the government to pay workers from a contingency cash reserve fund holding roughly $144 million, and the mayor has requested adding to that fund $85.9 million of certified additional revenue. Officials expect the fund to cover a couple weeks of operations and say the figure would grow if an additional $110 million from an emergency cash reserve fund is also used.
"I think it's important that we did that because the government needs to keep functioning. Just because the House can't agree with the Senate is not a reason for citizens' trash to not be picked up,'' Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said in an interview after the vote.
Even with local government operational, hundreds of thousands of federal workers were sent home, barricades went up around some of Washington's most significant landmarks - including the Lincoln Memorial - and federal agencies that employ a large percentage of the regional workforce were essentially shuttered. Metrorail ridership rose slightly during the mid-day hours, perhaps because of the early dismissal of federal workers.
"We are aware of federal workers heading home from their offices during the mid-day hours, so certainly some if not most of the additional trips taken during those hours were federal workers heading home early,'' said Metro spokesman Dan Stessel.
The D.C. Council vote came hours before House Republicans sought passage of legislation aimed at reopening slices of the federal government. The Republican bills covered the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Park Service and a portion of the D.C. government funded with local tax revenue. But the measures fell short of the two-thirds majority needed for passage, with Democrats arguing that Republicans shouldn't be permitted to choose which agencies remain open and which stay shut.