D.C. Mayor to Declare All City Workers “Essential” in Face of Federal Shutdown

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray plans to declare all D.C. government workers essential in the face of a potential federal shutdown.

The looming shutdown of the federal government would affect thousands of local D.C. government workers because Congress overseas the city. Declaring those worker as essential would keep them all on the job.

But that scheme could cause serious legal trouble for the city.

““It is ridiculous that a city of 632,000 people – a city where we have balanced our budget for 18 consecutive years and have a rainy-day fund of well over a billion dollars – cannot spend its residents’ own local tax dollars to provide them the services they’ve paid for without Congressional approval," Gray said in a press release explaining his decision Wednesday.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton supported the mayor's decision, saying no member of Congress should tell D.C. how to spend its money.

"Under the Home Rule Act, the mayor is the chief executive officer of the District, and I will not second guess his determination that all D.C. government operations are essential and will therefore continue if the federal government shuts down on Oct. 1," Norton said.

At-large D.C. Council member David Grosso has been in office only since January, but he's already itching to defy Congress on the looming shutdown.


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“It doesn’t happen anywhere in the country,” Grosso said. “No city, no state, no county, nobody is affected the same way we are.”

On Monday, the council plans to pass emergency legislation declaring the city’s workers as essential.

“We raise locally almost $7 billion a year to spend on our services, and for us to be prohibited from spending that money and having to close down the government because Congress can’t agree with the president is ridiculous,” Finance and Revenue Committee Chairman Jack Evans said.

A shutdown would mean the city would have to suspend DMV services, trash collection, as well as close libraries and curtail many other day-to-day operations.

Gray added, "Congress can’t even get its own fiscal house in order; they should be taking lessons from us rather than imposing needless suffering on us. I will not allow the safety and well-being of District residents to be compromised by Congress’s dysfunction.”

Despite the tough talk, D.C. Attorney General Irving Nathan said the move could be illegal, subject the city to heavy fines and prompt congress to take punitive action.

“To have the council act in the way it is described, which is basically says it wants to thumb its nose at the federal government, risks criminal prosecution,” he said.

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